Correct information is vital when dealing with a pandemic. Unfortunately, the US is the greatest spreader of misinformation about COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted lives across the world. However, the US has been statistically the poorest at handling the virus. The country has the largest numbers of deaths and cases in the world.
While President Biden made a commitment to tackling the virus, it seems that there is a great challenge presented by misinformation. In fact, a study has found that the US is spreading misinformation and endangering lives in other countries.
McGill University in Montreal set out to study the misinformation that has spread across the globe. The research was based in Canada, and to find out how misinformation spread the team studied the activity of the 200,000 most active Twitter users in the country.
The findings were published in Frontiers in Political Science and it uncovered interesting information.
What was found?
The study found that US news outlets were spreading disinformation to Canadian Twitter users. Moreover, the US news outlets were specifically responsible for misconceptions about COVID-19.
It was uncovered that after reading US News, Canadians were more likely to believe falsehoods.
Lead author Aengus Bridgman, a PhD Candidate in Political Science at McGill University, explained the situation in Canada:
“It’s hard for Canadian journalists, scientists and public health experts to be heard by the average Canadian, given all the noise generated by American sources.”
“Countries with journalists and political leaders that don’t indulge conspiracy theories or profess anti-science views are simply not immune to dangerous infodemics.”
What can be done?
The study noted interesting facts about Canadian social media habits. One of the findings was that Canadian Twitter users are following three times, on average, Americans than Canadians.
While some would suggest following Canadian outlets rather than the misinformation produced by the US, there are still concerns.
Study co-author Taylor Owen, an associate professor at the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University, stated:
“This infodemic has the capacity to change important attitudes and behaviours that influence transmission patterns of COVID-19. Ultimately, it can change the scale and lethality of a pandemic.”
What’s happened in the US?
Misinformation has been a serious issue in the US. The unsupported statements of former President Donald Trump led to a riot in the Capitol.
Furthermore, claims from Trump that ingesting bleach could help combat COVID-19 alarmed health professionals.
Perhaps the greatest illustration of the danger of misinformation can be seen by the number of deaths in the US because of COVID-19. Over half a million people have died in the country because of the virus.
Furthermore, a lack of understanding is leading to anti-vaccination campaigns and people refusing to ensure the safety of themselves and others. Ultimately, this leads to a continued risk.
Let’s hope US outlets can provide clarity.
Images via Alamy