Polymerase chain reaction tests. Contact tracing. Respiratory droplets. Our expanding vocabulary reflects the crash course in public health and epidemiology that has become our pandemic vernacular.
“Infodemic” is now another term to add to your list, if you haven’t already.
An infodemic is an overload of information, often false or unverified, about a problem — especially a major crisis. Quickly spreading in the news, online and through social media, this information fuels fear and speculation, making the problem worse, not better.
Misinformation is often spread in a disaster. We share it to be useful to our community. In times that are riddled by anxiety and uncertainty, sharing provides engagement. In these situations, misinformation can also spread. Perhaps your lovable Uncle Arthur passes on advice that may be factually incorrect. It has been passed around a few times without the intent to mislead.
But there are also campaigns of disinformation to knowingly spreading misinformation. They are often politically motivated and meant to sow discord.
In a world where we get so much of our health information through the internet, it is imperative to adopt strategies to discern which studies and websites are trustworthy. We protect our health by hand washing, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance, but what are we doing to protect our digital hygiene?
Use the Acronym U ADOPT to determine the credibility of health-related websites.
Usability: Is the website well-organized? Can you navigate the site to find the information you are seeking or is it almost deliberately vague?
Author: Who wrote the content? Are they a qualified source? It is a red flag if you cannot tell who the author is. Do they have an editorial board responsible for reviewing the content they are posting on the website?
Date: Is the scientific information current? For COVID-19, information has been changing rapidly, and if links are broken, that is a sign that the website has not been updated recently.
Objectivity: Is the subject fact-based and balanced? Are side effects or other treatment options presented? Are you encouraged to check with your doctor first? Be cautious if you cannot tell what conflicts of interest the author may have. Is there a personal or financial benefit that they can gain if you buy into what they are saying? Be skeptical if the author makes claims that it works for everyone. Watch for expressions like “miracle cure.” If you feel like your attention is being grabbed, then pull your attention back for a moment and assess the information carefully.
Purpose: Is it clear what the aims of the website are and for whom it is intended? Are they simply trying to sell you something or get your personal information?
The pandemic traps us in a liminal space. To clarify our uprooted life and indefinite future, we try to gather as much information as possible. As we seek new information, we may end up consuming misinformation.
Pandemics actually unfold in slow motion. Remember that there is rarely an event that changes the whole landscape on a dime. Slowing down to take a moment to verify new information before sharing it is the equivalent of washing our hands for the infodemic. JN
Bob Roth is the managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions.