Disinfodemic Dissecting Responses Covid19 Disinformation B1
This policy brief - the first of two in a series - uses the term
disinformation to broadly refer to content that is false and has
potentially negative impacts. These impacts can have fatal
consequences during a pandemic.
The intent of the agent producing or sharing the inaccurate content
can differentiate disinformation from misinformation. The production
of content promising fake treatments for reasons of private
profit is an example of disinformation. But it can be described as
misinformation when the same content is believed to be true, and is
then shared with the intention of being helpful.
In the case of COVID-19, the responses may vary according to the
diverse motivations of those who are complicit in both disinformation
and misinformation. For example, education is a partial remedy for
misinformation, while stopping money-making from scams is one of
the ways to reduce the supply of disinformation. But the impact of the
false content, irrespective of intentions, is potentially the same. In
both cases, people are disempowered by being actively disinformed;
hence the gravely serious impacts that can result.
It is this focus on the damaging effects of fabricated and misleading
information, rather than the motivation for its creation and
dissemination, that explains the broad use of the term disinformation
in this policy brief, as well as its companion brief.
Disinformation long predates COVID-19. Falsehoods designed to
undermine the validity of science extend from the resurgence of the ‘flat
earth movement’ to those that dispute scientific consensus on climate
change, usually for narrow political or economic gain. The fabrications
that contaminate public health information today rely on the same
dissemination tools traditionally used to distribute disinformation.
What’s novel are the themes and the very direct impacts.
COVID-19 disinformation creates confusion about medical science
with immediate impact on every person on the planet, and upon whole
societies. It is more toxic and more deadly than disinformation about
other subjects. That is why this policy brief coins the term disinfodemic.
Using this frame, the brief helps to make sense of this new menace,
and of the many types of responses that are unfolding internationally.
To do this, it unpacks nine main themes and four dominant formats of
COVID-19 disinformation, and presents a typology that groups the range
of responses to the problem into 10 classes. This analysis draws on
research being conducted for the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission
and UNESCO, to be published later in 2020, which addresses a wider
range of disinformation subjects, types and responses.
In the words of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres,
“our enemy is also the growing surge of misinformation” during
the crisis. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described
the disinformation swirling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as a
“massive infodemic” - a major driver of the pandemic itself.
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