What Do You Truly Desire?
By Athila Surtido, De La Salle Medical and Health Sciences Institute, Dasmariñas City, Cavite, Philippines
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, it is likely that most people reading this article have seen posts with headlines claiming to know the origins of COVID-19, its cure, and how it’s transmitted. Rumors—from claims that the coronavirus is a type of rabies to drinking cow urine can cure the virus—are scattered all over social media. One may not feel the implications of widespread misinformation, but it is just as lethal and inevitable as a virus.
Misinformation, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is information disseminated with the intent to mislead a certain target audience. In the medical context, misinformation refers to health-related methods and claims that are yet to be proven (Chou et al., 2018). With the current pandemic, misinformation has placed lives at risk. On April 28, it was reported that 728 Iranians died from alcohol poisoning, following a claim that highly concentrated alcohol could disinfect the body and cure COVID-19. Similarly, 46 devotees of a Protestant church in South Korea tested positive for the virus after church leaders all used the same bottle to spray salt water into their mouths on March 16 in hopes of protecting themselves from the virus. The claim that salt water can eliminate the virus was disproved by Senior Scholar Amesh Adalja, MD of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security stating that “While it is true that coronavirus can cause a sore throat and gargling with warm water may make it feel better, it has no direct effect on the virus.” Certainly, the practice of unproven methods from misinformation imposes a great threat to public health.
Moreover, misinformation also covers controversial topics, such as vaccines, Ebola, chronic diseases, etc. Perpetrators of health-related misinformation “gain momentum from the desire to find a solution to a particular disease or illness by patients or their relatives” (Pulido et al., 2020). The global reach of health misinformation was successful because of its unaccustomed content. It is difficult for one to stop reading such materials because it is only searched when necessary and not just for entertainment. People will digest any health-related information, real or fake, because they think it will be beneficial.
It seems appealing to say that if everyone is vulnerable to the threats of misinformation, then we should gatekeep the information released on online platforms. However, restricting any kind of information to be released on those platforms would be a threat to the media, and anyone who practices free speech. With free speech, we can educate people, and formulate arguments and opinions for public discourse. Without it, there would be no healthcare interest groups that oppose a government’s questionable actions concerning public health, and the lives of millions would be at stake.
Indeed, misinformation on public health is dangerous and can be deadly. We cannot just regulate information released on online platforms; there is no absolute solution that fits everyone. The Internet’s purpose varies from person to person. Whether to communicate or entertain, it is definite that we stumble across and feed into the information stored on it, real or fake. If you are unsure of the authenticity of an information, use a method from the show, Lucifer: ask yourself, “What does the author truly desire?”
Aditi Chattopadhyay. (2020, March 17). Fact check: No, Cow Urine Cannot Ward Off COVID-19. Thelogicalindian.Com; The Logical Indian. https://thelogicalindian.com/fact-check/cow-urine-covid-19-20204
Barua, Z., Barua, S., Aktar, S., Kabir, N., & Li, M. (2020). Effects of misinformation on COVID-19 individual responses and recommendations for resilience of disastrous consequences of misinformation. Progress in Disaster Science, 100119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pdisas.2020.100119
Bollyky, T. J., Templin, T., Cohen, M., Schoder, D., Dieleman, J. L., & Wigley, S. (2019). The relationships between democratic experience, adult health, and cause-specific mortality in 170 countries between 1980 and 2016: an observational analysis. The Lancet, 393(10181), 1628–1640. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(19)30235-1
Chou, W. Y. S., Oh, A., & Klein, W. M. (2018). Addressing health-related misinformation on social media. Jama, 320(23), 2417 -2418. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.16865
Islam, M. S., Sarkar, T., Khan, S. H., Mostofa Kamal, A.-H., Hasan, S. M. M., Kabir, A., Yeasmin, D., Islam, M. A., Amin Chowdhury, K. I., Anwar, K. S., Chughtai, A. A., & Seale, H. (2020). COVID-19–Related Infodemic and Its Impact on Public Health: A Global Social Media Analysis. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.20-0812
Jazeera, A. (2020, April 27). Iran: Over 700 dead after drinking alcohol to cure coronavirus. Aljazeera.Com; Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/iran-700-dead-drinking-alcohol-cure-coronavirus-200427163529629.html
Lindsay Smith Rogers, & JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2020, April 22). Myths vs. Reality. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. https://www.jhsph.edu/covid-19/articles/coronavirus-facts-vs-myths.html#:~:text=The%20coronavirus%20remains%20in%20the%20throat%20for%204%20days,%20causing%20sore%20throat%20and%20coughing%20before%20it%20reaches%20the%20lungs.%20Drinking%20a%20lot%20of%20water%20and%20gargling%20with%20warm%20water%20and%20salt%20or%20vinegar%20eliminates%20the%20virus.
Park Chan-kyong. (2020, March 16). Coronavirus: saltwater spray infects 46 church-goers in South Korea. South China Morning Post; South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3075421/coronavirus-salt-water-spray-infects-46-church-goers
Pulido, C. M., Ruiz-Eugenio, L., Redondo-Sama, G., & Villarejo-Carballido, B. (2020). A New Application of Social Impact in Social Media for Overcoming Fake News in Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(7), 2430. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17072430
Rappler.com. (2020, January 28). FALSE: Novel coronavirus a “type of rabies.” Rappler; Rappler. https://rappler.com/newsbreak/fact-check/novel-coronavirus-type-rabies
Waszak, P. M., Kasprzycka-Waszak, W., & Kubanek, A. (2018). The spread of medical fake news in social media – The pilot quantitative study. Health Policy and Technology, 7(2), 115–118. doi:10.1016/j.hlpt.2018.03.002
Woman Wearing Face Mask Using Macbook Pro · Free Stock Photo. (2020). Pexels.Com; Pexels. https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-wearing-face-mask-using-macbook-pro-4031902/