Misinformation Thrives During a Crisis

Falsehoods, rumours and conspiracy theories thrive during a crisis, and even more when the crisis revolves around a threatening disease. The combination of these factors in a digital age is a dangerous cocktail, says Johan Farkas of Malmö University, keynote speaker at MEVI2022.

Danish Johan Farkas is a PhD student in Media and Communication Studies at Malmö University, Sweden, and specialises in digital propaganda and misinformation. He is one of two keynote speakers at MEVI2022, The Finnish Conference for Media and Communication Studies, in the end of April.

Misinformation is spreading quickly during the coronavirus outbreak. Malicious actors exploit the situation, for example, by spreading conspiracy theories for political gain, or impersonating public health authorities in order to commit fraud.

Just as we should be proactive in stopping the spread of infection, we must be proactive in preventing the spread of rumours and misinformation.

In a global survey, more than 70 per cent of respondents said they worry about fake news and false information about the virus outbreak. 45 per cent find it difficult to source reliable information about the virus.

The study was conducted in March in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States as part of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

What can we do, then? As individuals, we should be extra careful about checking the sources of information on social media. We can also help our networks by sharing the latest guidelines from health authorities. At the same time, it is very important that authorities prioritise clear communication and keep citizens updated with visible and easily accessible information, says Farkas.

“Just as we should be proactive in stopping the spread of infection, we must be proactive in preventing the spread of rumours and misinformation. Authorities have to prioritise clear communication, focus on reaching out to all target groups and pay attention to whether falsehoods start circulating on social media”, he adds.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) has emphasised that communication is crucial for enabling those in Sweden to reduce the spread of infection. In the absence of a vaccine, we have communication, said Morgan Olofsson, communications director for MSB.

“Millions of people are searching for Covid-19 information right now. It is crucial that credible information is visible online. Tech companies and democratic governments of the world must work together on this. This way, we can counteract the amount of misinformation”, said Farkas in April 2020.

This article was first produced by Malmö University and published at mau.se, and later adapted for NordMedia Network.

Photo by Håkan Røjder.