#COVID19 – Battling The Infodemic

Fake newsThe Fake News (aka junk news, pseudo-news, or hoax news) is an increasingly common problem, especially at the moment however; in reality this isn’t something that is a new problem…

Is that ‘news’ correct?

Fake OR Fact?This has to be one of those ‘million dollar questions.

The plethora of ‘news’ (during the current pandemic) consists of some facts but, in addition to the often unhelpful sensational journalistic opinion; there is also some accidental and deliberate disinformation. Plus some possibly well-intentioned but harmful hoaxes.

The dubious and unhelpful information is being spread via (some) traditional news media (print and broadcast) but also; increasingly via online ‘news’ outlets and social-media platforms. So how can we work out what is good or bad ‘news’ and which is factual, or simply more journalistic tripe and contrived bunkum?

It’s vital that everyone receives clear, factual information about Covid-19. Bad information ruins lives. In situations like this, it can cause unnecessary fear and—most importantly—may lead people to ignore important advice about symptoms or avoiding infection. (fullfact.org)

Generally, we tend not to be very good at ‘fact-checking’ a great deal of the information we consume, that we subsequently go on to believe as fact. Despite the availability of some good online resources like fullfact.org and their new Automated Fact Checking service, to name just one resource.

Full Fact is building scalable, robust, automated fact checking tools to be used in newsrooms and by fact checkers all over the world (fullfact.org)

Propaganda induced Paranoia: an Old Chestnut

Laptop Fake NewsFake news and misinformation isn’t new indeed; the whole process has formed a useful tool (or weapon) to further many national political or personal agendas over decades.

Historically, William Joyce (aka Lord Haw-Haw) was a renowned exponent of the this methodology. Joyce broadcast Nazi propaganda – from Germany to the UK – during World War II. His efforts were designed to undermine the British war efforts.

But Joyce was not an isolated past exponent of the genre. Administrations across the world have used misinformation to bolster or dilute perceptions for decades. The methodology is a prominent aspect of international espionage and political ideology. What you hear/read/see is not always what it appears to be.

There’s a lot of information out there about the new coronavirus, but not all of it is right. This false or misleading information can come in many forms: from viral posts on social media, to comments made by public figures, to statements printed or broadcast by journalists. It’s vital that everyone receives clear, factual information about Covid-19. (fullfact.org)

This prominence of misinformation and double-speak is prominent during times of political and social turmoil (like now). It also has the ability to reinvigorate the value of Orwell’s Dystopian 1984, or at the very least; times like this create a renewed and frenzied scurry towards new understanding and learning about some of George’s succinct and worrying prophesies.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.(George Orwell)

Impacted by despair, ill-health and grief, it’s not hard to see how Orwell could invent his ultimate dystopian world. All kinds of things can flow through our minds when we are facing emotional responses to the anxiety, fear and trauma in a shitstorm.

As the Greek philosopher Epictetus espoused; “Only the educated are free” and we can preserve those freedoms if we always try to ensure we understand things better but remember…

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. (Epictetus)

The Infodemic

9th April 2020: Almost half of UK online adults have come across false or misleading information about the coronavirus (Covid-19) in the last week (Ofcom)

The tech giants are struggling to mitigate against the ‘infodemic‘ (see here) and false coronavirus claims have left people saying; most efforts are “too little, too late” as the false claims continue to appear online (see here). So, how can we combat this problem?

The news is reverberated as misinformation in social media but occasionally finds its way to the mainstream media as well (wikipedia.org)

Today’s availability of digital news has increased this prominence of fake news but also, it is helping to feed the so-called yellow journalism phenomenon.

The global epidemic of misinformation—spreading rapidly through social media platforms and other outlets—poses a serious problem for public health. (The Lancet)

The above article quoted the WHO Director-General who said; “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic” (Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus).

Infodemic Defined

Facts OR Fiction?

So, the “outbreak has generated a tsunami of information” but what can we do to “sift the fact from the fiction”? The Observer offered some advice about the cure for fake news. The BBC have attempted to dispel some of the Covid-19 myths and answer the pressing question being posed by many people; How can you stop the spread of misinformation? But, many people also think some of the Myth-Busting is little more than fake news itself.

Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD. So how can we protect our mental health? (BBC)

Information Impacts

Early in the pandemic, we saw the panic induced impacts of misinformation… I still find it hard to understand how any suburban couple could genuinely believe; they might need a similar toilet roll allocation that a multi-generation third-world family impacted by dysentery might require?

And, the stock-pilling of food, much of which has already consigned to landfill is bordering on criminal. And all that before we even start to consider the subsequent (disgusting) price-hiking opportunities employed by some unscrupulous and opportunist retailers. I (and many others) have concluded that much of this was as a direct result of the MSM sensationalism.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.(George Orwell)

It’s all enough to blow the mind of any mentally ‘stable’ person. But what about those who are already suffering with anxiety issues, depression and other mental-health impacts? What additional mental-health problems are we creating and storing up for the future?

Checking the validity of our ‘news’ isn’t always easy but, perhaps now more than usual, we need to try, if only to maintain our sanity. But, to do so is especially difficult for anybody who doesn’t have the time, the cognitive capability or indeed the required inclination. That said, we can benefit if we at least try to fact-check every single piece of information we might read about coronavirus issues.

Conspiracy Theories

Irrespective of your beliefs around what might or might not fit within so-called Conspiracy Theories, the plethora of ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake-news’ actually feeds the anxiety and paranoia in the philosophers of the genre.

A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable.In principle, conspiracy theories are not false by default and their validity depends on evidence just as in any theory; although they are often discredited due to the cumbersome and improbable nature of many of them. (wikipedia.org)

Conspiracy Theory (source not known)The list of conspiracy theories is almost endless and thanks to covid-19, is expanding by the day… probably exponentially, just like the virus.

In addition to those theories around Global Warming, Vaccinations against illness, Governments and Political Conflicts and the Economics of our Society, the intricacies of facts, along with the diversity of scientific, political and social opinion, it was obvious; the Covid-19 pandemic could never be immune to these examinations (see HERE).

Sitting in the midst of this pandemic and irrespective of any national or international response to the issue (so far) be it proactive or lack-lustre, it mostly remains to be seen; how much in the covid-19 conspiracy theories will end up being fact. Or the contrived fiction of paranoia, that always seeps out from under tin-foil hats worn by ‘concerned’ worriers in times like this.

For me and at the moment, I feel lucky that I can hold a pragmatic thought process to many of the issues. I’m not too concerned about what turns out to be fact or fiction in the future. I’m convinced that coronavirous can’t be spread by the 5G mobile-phone network masts, unlike some, even if that infrastructure does get built with Chinese assistance..

Likewise, irrespective of any American propaganda or the propensity for Psychological operations (PSYOP) in the USA, mostly designed to protect American commercial interests, I also remain unconvinced (so far) about intentional (possible) biological warfare by the CCP who ‘invented’ and distributed the virus… as part of some Chinese desire for world domination. Yes, there probably has been a Chinese mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, at least in the early stages but then again, can any national administration be totally exempt from that assumption? Hardly!, Does it really matter (now) if this was / was not intentional or accidental? We can’t change the past.

Additionally and despite many of the factual, plausible or ludicrous allegations, around the origins of coronavirus; the (arguably) racist Donald Trump “Chinese Virus” comments actually reflected fact – covid-19 did come from China, all be it unintentionally OR intentionally. It doesn’t really matter if the pandemic has resulted from a natural phenomenon, born in strange Chinese eating habits, or even if the virus has spread due to intentional efforts by some ‘scientists’ within a Chinese (medical or military) research facility in Wuhan. Currently, there is no evidence to support suggestions that coronavirus originated in a Chinese government laboratory.

Click for full sizeSome of the claims about China (or any country), along with many of the issues and impacts of the pandemic could turn out to be true, or made in good faith, in the fullness of time. But as ever, many are either made in the heat of the moment, are based in fact but lack important context and examination of background factors, for them to be informative and helpful… as opposed to being sensationalism which is unhelpful.

Context is always key to gaining any real understanding (of anything) and even the Coronavirus Good News List needs context. But again remember, we can’t change the past, or make things pan-out differently. All we can do is work bloody hard, after the event, to ensure that we don’t revisit past mistakes. That we do all we can to try and prevent any failings in our response to a future national or international crisis … as individuals, as a society, as Governments and has a human race!

Mental-health: Battling the Misinformation

So, how can you protect your mental-health during this ‘crisis’? As we’re being told, at regular intervals; we’re all in this together! We are all facing similar problems and sadly some more than others, as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.

The fear of being out of control and unable to tolerate uncertainty are common characteristics of many anxiety disorders. So it’s understandable that many individuals with pre-existing anxiety are facing challenges at the moment. (Nicky Lidbetter, Anxiety UK)

Early in the pandemic response, The WHO issued guidance, for clinicians and Public Health authorities, about Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Perhaps of more use for individuals; the NHS One You site, as part of their Every Mind Matters resources, have issued 10 tips to help if you are worried about coronavirus.

A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen – coronavirus is that on a macro scale, (Rosie Weatherley, Mind UK)

The NHS resource also includes some additional tips for those who may be struggling with that extra stress created by the lock-down. Hopefully, those tips might assist with preserving our mental wellbeing while staying at home. That said, I can’t help but feel the current situation is; (a) creating mental-health issues for many and (b)  building problems for the future.

Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them. (Epictetus)

As many resources (including the BBC) have been pointing out, irrespective of any existing or prevailing mental-health issues, we can all benefit from;

  • News Rations: Limiting our exposure to the news and being careful about what we read (and believe)
  • Limit Facebook: Taking breaks from social media feeds is important. Limit the time you spend scrolling through you feeds and mute those things that are triggers
  • Health Hygiene: Yes, we need to wash our hands – but not excessively. Try to adopt a sensible and appropriate approach and remember social-distancing.
  • Get Connected – Stay Connected: Trying to stay connected with people, particularly those who matter to us. The digital capabilities and channels of communication (Zoom, Facetime, Whatsapp etc) have all become important lifelines for many, as opposed to simply being the frivolous distractions of the past. But, don’t forget the above!
  • Avoid burnout: it’s important to take some time-out from the shitstorm!

Relief in Clouds

In every difficult situation, it’s usually helpful if you can try to find something positive, amongst all the doom and gloom. It perhaps sounds a little trite at the moment but; that old adage of ‘every cloud has a silver lining‘ is usually a good starting point. And, a little stoicism rarely goes amiss when we are facing difficult issues…

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.(Marcus Aurelius)

If there is one thing that is certain… it is that throughout our life, change is continuous. The issues we faced, yesterday, today and tomorrow will likely be different. It’s how we manage the here and now that mostly matters. And remember, we can only change what we can change.

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. (Epictetus)

When I see situations and/or people who don’t fit (or appear to fit) within the common acceptances decency, integrity, compassion and empathy etc it’s helpful to understand some realities. There is usually more good than bad in most people.

On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time. (George Orwell)

Many of us might not always do what is ‘right’ all of the time but, most of us do try… even many of the politicians (arguably) and contrary to popular belief.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength. (Marcus Aurelius)

If/when we choose to look for the good in people, and the NHS and community spirit has proved there is plenty of it, we have more power over our thoughts which are (too often) clouded by the bad things in life.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature. (Marcus Aurelius)

Language & Communication

As George Carlin, the American stand-up comedian and amateur philosopher once espoused; “by and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth” which, in many respects is a succinct and valid observation. Especially when you consider all the issues I’ve tried to outline in this post. But, to paraphrase that well-known author C.S Lewis; we should always at least try to use language in such a way that makes it ‘quite clear what we mean.’  Always assuming that we want to ensure our sentences couldn’t mean anything else.

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.(Buddha)

Language, or the way we choose and use our words, can provide us with a powerful tool but sadly, not always a tool that is used in a good way.

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. (Mark Twain)

We can all benefit from examining the way we communicate with each other… but some more than others. And importantly, have the ability to be contrite if the we say things, or the words we have chosen are misunderstood, or cause harm.

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. (Lao Tzu)

Mark Twain observed that in the old adage – ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’ – that’s “not nearly as often.” How often do our deeds actually match what we shout about? As Confucius suggested; shouldn’t we all be ashamed if/when our deeds don’t match our words?

When it comes to the language we use, I’m always reminded of Winston Churchill who succinctly pointed out; having the ability to ‘eat one’s own words’ usually means… we are actually consuming a ‘wholesome diet’ …it’s a life-skill that rarely leaves us suffering from indigestion! And now for some frivolous and humorous observations about communication…

Regardless of the impacts, currently presented by the pandemic, and as with other pressing issues like climate change, (arguably slowed by covid-19), or even the ongoing abject poverty that is still experienced in some quarters; coronavirous is just one of many examples of our world problems.

We are more likely to manage those impacts, and be able to deal with the issues a little more effectively, we can (hopefully) come out the other side – better for having had an opportunity to learn important some lessons. Just so long as we always try to remember… we’re in this together!

Summary Conclusion

We can all benefit from adjusting our personal values and expectations. It’s always helpful to try and develop greater levels of acceptance and gratitude, for whatever little we might have. Now, possibly more than ever before (in most people’s lives) is a good time to revisit your personal values and needs.

I’m grateful for being alive, I’m grateful for (so far) being relatively healthy and I’m thankful for all those people who are doing their very best for the benefit of all, rather than themselves.

I often wonder, what are other people are genuinely grateful for and thankful about? But, at least for now; Stay Home, Stay Well and Stay Safe!

2 thoughts on “#COVID19 – Battling The Infodemic

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