A year ago, as the world struggled with the news of a deadly virus spreading unnoticed through our communities, the World Health Organization warned we were facing a double disaster.
Covid-19 was now claiming lives on almost every continent and the crisis deserved to be called a pandemic. As if that wasn’t enough, a tsunami of false and misleading information was powering through social media, drowning out life-saving public health guidance. There was little doubt, this was also an infodemic.
Online misinformation was nothing new, but the lies now seemed to be everywhere. What’s more, they posed a new and immediate danger to the public. At a time when it had suddenly become risky to step out the front door, or meet a friend, the wrong advice could spell the difference between life or death.
Back then, in the days after the WHO statement, I warned that misinformation was as much our common enemy as the virus itself. I knew that we urgently needed to promote the scientific advice that could keep us all safe and I pledged that my team and I would step up our efforts to do just that.
We quickly realized we needed to get trustworthy information onto the social media feeds where real conversations were happening. Together with social impact agency Purpose we launched a new platform, Verified, to produce shareable nuggets of reliable guidance.
But we also knew behavior had to change if we were going to help stem the spread of misinformation. Just like with hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing, we all had a simple role to play. It turned out all we needed was to just take a moment to pause before sharing something online.
Picture it, we’ve all been there. We’re scrolling through our feeds when suddenly something catches our eye. A photo, a clip, or a meme. Our eyes widen, our hearts beat faster. Maybe we’re angry, scared, or just intrigued. We want others to experience the same and find ourselves reaching for the share button.
That’s when we need to stop and think. Could it be that content that got us all worked up is just too good to be true? If we then look closer and find it’s a lie, we need to stop it dead in its tracks. Just like a virus, we need to recognize the very real danger of passing it on.
Now that we have vaccines, this misinformation battle is more urgent than ever. Sadly, the news has barely sunk in for many people around the world that we have in our hands a tool with the power to end the pandemic. We should be celebrating this incredible achievement, but the infodemic has left many of us still suffering in confusion and fear.
Just like in those confusing days of the first lockdown, lies and conspiracies are still swirling online and making it almost impossible for those seeking reliable information about the vaccines. With our special vaccine guide for communicators, we hope to help others boost trust by pointing people towards the information they need.
But this is not just a problem for communicators, we also need your help. Sign up to join our team of digital first responders and we’ll send you fact-based, shareable content explaining how to stay safe and equip you with the tools to spot and neutralize toxic lies online.
One year on, I can’t say we’ve developed a vaccine that can end the infodemic. But I will say we’re making progress on a treatment. And every one of us who pledges to share only truth and to shut down lies takes us another step further along the path to finding a cure.