DISINFACTS | Issue 2/2020

Countering the ‘infodemic’ Handling fake news the right way of context and misinterpreted in the public domain, as well as for poorly conducted studies that probably should not have been published in the first place. Viral confusion The wildest of rumours are circulating around social networks at the moment: the new pathogen was deliberately created (sometimes by China, sometimes by the USA) or is actually a bioweapon. Confusing speculations abound not only about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 but also about treatment for the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19: according to a news report that went viral in mid March on WhatsApp. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna had indicated that the pain relief medication increases the risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 (2). Denials were promptly issued by the Medical University (3). On the same day, however, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) recommended, on the basis of other sources, adopting ‘a cautious approach to the use of medications based on ibuprofen’ in regards to COVID-19 and consulting a doctor (4). However, BAG did not clearly state that the medication worsens the course of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned against ibuprofen but withdrew the warning a few days later. ‘We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,’ said World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, according to media during the Munich Security Conference in February (1). Fake news spreads faster and more easily than the virus and it is just as dangerous. So true: if digital misinformation leads to people behaving incorrectly, the virus will spread more rapidly as a result and the capacity of intensive care units will no longer be sufficient to treat all patients, and lives may even be lost! And this applies not just to targeted misinformation but also to scientific studies. For well conducted studies, the results of which are taken out False information has become a problem in the current pandemic. Myths and misinformation are circulating about the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. Anxious people are, for example, asking whether alcohol-based hand disinfection help with SARS-CoV-2. It takes only a few clicks to find answers on the internet – some based on science and others full of hot air. How should we deal with this? As part of the international CLEAN HOSPITALS initiative that is supported by HARTMANN (see article on page 20), a set of action guidelines has been developed which scientists can use to analyse and categorise incorrect information. The tool is ultimately designed to encourage a systematic response to the fake news. A preliminary version of the action guidelines has already been developed, as has a data collection form. Both are now being tested and validated. A system to counter fake news https://cleanhospitals.com/research-projects-publications/fake-news-misinformation/ KNOWLEDGE DISINFACTS 2/20 page 12