Phyllis Kimber Wilcox |
This report is part of a nation-wide focus on Wednesday August 18, in partnership with the Boston Globe to comprehensively debunk myths about vaccines and identify other barriers to vaccination in communities across the country.
With COVID-19 variants changing how the nation deals with the pandemic, it is important the public has correct information about the disease, its prevention, and how to protect both themselves and their family members from the virus’ worst effects.
To do that effectively there should be reliable information about the nature of the disease and which protection measures work to decrease its spread and make public safety paramount.
The CDC has a webpage which updates and informs the public on the latest disease statistics and other relevant information.
It is equally important to point out falsehoods which continue to be disseminated to the public and spread through social media. Some of the misinformation may be unintentional such as repeating mistaken information a friend or relative may have passed on. However, some information may have unintended consequences and lead to distrust of public health officials and the scientific consensus which can result in higher rates of disease and further the spread of the virus.
Study Confirms Reach of Disinformation on Social Media
In mid-May, a study by the nonprofit Public Library of Science followed search terms and claims about the COVID-19 vaccines on social media from December of 2019 through November of 2020 and found various rumors and conspiracy theories were being widely disseminated not only in the U.S. but around the world.
This disinformation was separated into nine categories including: vaccine development, availability and access, safety efficacy, and acceptance of the vaccines.
The study found rumors such as the claim COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility, or that the flu vaccine makes children more vulnerable to Coronavirus or that all participants in COVID-19 vaccine trials had side effects. Such rumors and conspiracy theories may lead to mistrust contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
Tracking COVID-19 vaccine misinformation in real-time and engaging with social media to disseminate correct information could help safeguard the public against misinformation.
It is important to understand what is meant by the term misinformation. Misinformation are facts which are shared out of context and are not necessarily shared to cause harm. Disinformation on the other hand, may be totally made up and incorrect information that is decimated for various reasons including to profit in some way or to cause harm to others.
These concerns are not just about what people share in their own social media circles, but in some cases may cause community-wide problems. Such was the case when some doctors began telling others that hydroxychloroquine would cure COVID-19 causing the illness of some and the death of others.
The study also found the U.S. led the world in conspiracy theories on social media.
There are current concerns voiced by some in the medical profession regarding the vaccines and their efficacy which have been problematic. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times highlights how some of these professionals have used their positions to purvey disinformation about the treatment and efficacy of the vaccines to treat COVID-19 and to spread misinformation about cures.
“Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society, whether they recognize it or not,” the article highlighted.
An effort has begun to have social media platforms monitor and act against people who misuse their accounts by spreading false information.
Recently, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia had their accounts suspended. For Senator Paul it is not the first time his statements regarding COVID-19 have been called into question. The latest incident has to do with a YouTube video posted by the Senator stating masks were not effective in combating COVID-19.
His account was suspended for seven days since this was his second offense. The Senator was previously criticized for calling into question the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
It’s important to keep informed on the status of COVID-19 in your area, to follow the guidelines of the CDC and to share only reliable information from reliable sources on your social media platforms.
Phyllis Kimber-Wilcox is a reporter for Black Voice News. Her interests are the intersections of historic events with contemporary realities and their impacts on the persistent social, structural and economic barriers which continue to adversely affect and limit Black lives with an eye toward community-based solutions.