Has everyone heard of the word “info-demic?”

The World Health Organization said this refers to the perils and traps of misinformation during a disease outbreak, such as Covid-19. The pervasiveness of wrong information can influence the behavior of people about the pandemic and worse, create panic or even make people feel complacent and lead them to ignore existing health protocols. More importantly, sowing doubt, discontent and frustration may lead to the worsening of the situation and undercut the government’s legitimate efforts to keep people safe from the disease.

With this new communication environment, anyone can create false information that looks so true. This may make other people who long for correct information to be gullible to content that is not fact-checked, verified and vetted, and in the end will do more harm than good.

During the recent “Stop Covid Deaths” webinar organized by the University of the Philippines, Roby Alampay, founder and chairman of Puma Public Productions, shared that first, look if the source of information is legitimate, particularly if it is mainstream media, a source that is reliable, reputable.

“Remember to rely not just on one source but a bevy of sources because one source is not enough and that no source is perfect. It is better to check other legitimate sources in order to validate the information that we saw and know if it is fake news or not. We have to enable ourselves and trust our better judgment,” he said.

Obviously, hilariously fake

Joy Flavier-Alampay, Executive Director of Asia Society Philippines, said there are times that if a bit of information is obviously fake, many are still inclined to share it, just because it’s hilariously fake, and they found it humorous.

“However, there are many who may not know if the news they got, and eventually shared, is fake or not. Many just do it for the sake of information sharing but without bothering to check the facts. Many probably know it’s fake, but there is also doubt that probably it is real as well, especially if the news was presented very well, with good production value and intelligent explanation coming from real, reputable and credible people, people may presume that it must be real. However, there should be a consistent instinct to try and validate one’s self,” she said.

For Dr. Jason Ligot, International Health Promotion Specialist Director for Development Communication Organic Intelligence, what he usually receives are messages coming from other chat groups of other social media platforms, the majority of which are messages that are ominous in tone, often portraying how seemingly bad a situation is.

What he receives are messages that start with a situation or problem in one place, then another, then next are proposed solutions, and lastly some sort of call to action, particularly asking that the message, often in chain format, be forwarded so others may be apprised of the situation and be forewarned.

Confusion created

However, he said those messages, particularly in relation to protecting ourselves from Covid-19, contain some things that are true and are fact, but many are also fake so it creates confusion.

“Some people tend to believe once they see information sent to them, thinking it’s true and thus gives them a false sense of security. People think that following these pieces of advice that are not based on evidence that are not facts, that they are protecting themselves, then they let their guard down when everyone knows that it’s still the same basic public safety measures that will protect us from Covid-19 like wearing of face masks, face shields, washing hands, observing physical distancing, and of course the vaccines. Even if the person who concocts the original message may have good intentions, this kind of information can be confusing,” he added.

On the other hand, Ceej Tantengco, Head of Communications of PumaPodcast, cited as an example information on the controversial drug “Ivermectin,” which was supposedly an effective and safe form of treatment of Covid-19.

“I believe in this infodemic, we should look at it from the side of empathy. Probably, for those who share this kind of information, may not really have bad intentions. They may think that the information is truthful and by sharing it, they are doing good for other people. But from the original source of the message, they really stylized the information to make it believable so there clearly was an attempt to mislead people,” she said.

So, what to do? She said that whenever we encounter a link to a message, view it with an initial sense of skepticism by looking at the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or the web address of the source. Not because it has the word “news” in it, it is a legitimate news source.

“It must really be a trusted news organization. Google the names of the people cited in the information. Check for their existence and reputation and look for other trusted sources. Let’s not believe that what was said by a reputable person may not have actually said it,” she said.

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