Referred to as an infodemic, fusing the nouns ‘information‘ and ‘epidemic‘, this is another of the many problematic issues on which the COVID-19 coronavirus emergency has led us to reflect. The WHO (World Health Organization) has been denouncing the risk since early February 2020.
Excessive production of insufficiently accurate information which, rather than producing awareness, has contributed to amplifying uncertainties and emotional reactions in public opinion around the world. Like an organism attacked by a pathogen, the various ganglia with which the global communication system is endowed – thanks in part to the enormous capacity for digital transmission and sharing – in the face of the virus’s emergence have become inflamed, ‘secreting’ abnormal doses of poorly verified news. Political decision-makers themselves and even experts from the scientific world, who in some cases have over-exposed themselves and ended up performing roles they should not, are sometimes complicit.
In this case, as in other aspects related to environmental and social aspects, COVID-19 has only made pre-existing problems more evident. Problems that the world already knew about, but did not adequately address. The term ‘infodemic’ itself seems to date back to 2003, coined by David J. Rothkopf, who used it in an article that appeared in May of that year in the Washington Post. The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, made it clear to everyone that these problems are unavoidable.
How important it is, in this context, to have reliable information in the freest and widest possible debate of ideas. How much governments cannot admit shortcuts, especially in terms of communication. How in the handling of complex issues, it is so essential to rely on rigour, expertise, knowledge sharing, responsibility and sensitivity. All the more so in the face of a global pandemic guaranteed to fuel emotional responses to and concern for the enormous health, social, economic and psychological impacts caused.
Maybe transformative change starts here too.