Misinformation: the Deadliest Virus

Archit Kalra

Regardless of political affiliation or personal beliefs, it’s universally agreed that one of the hallmarks of the past few years has been rampant discord and disunity. The cause? Misinformation.

Misinformation has existed in human society since the nidus of civilization, but it is especially prevalent and vicious in modern times, with a large amount of the blame on online platforms that allow for quick and diffuse dissemination of information. Now that Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram have become the go-to’s to learn more about the world around us, it is more important than ever to spot misinformation on your radar.

With the dangerous potential of new COVID-19 variants like the Delta variant spreading, as well as the psychological tolls of social distancing and losing loved ones, misinformation has become one of the most fatal diseases to ever plague humankind. Every day, we not only have to face the true dangers that COVID-19 poses to us, but also the ridiculous lies and bogus claims circulating online. Millions of people who fall prey to false information online, such as arguments that masks are dangerous or that coronavirus is a hoax, are getting infected every day and dying solely because of small missteps in the way they get their information and the judgment they use when evaluating it.

It doesn’t help that conspiracy theory groups like QAnon, an organization believing that devil-worshipping pedophiles are in control of our government, are gaining influence even as the true effects of misinformation become more evident. 

Still, it isn’t just people spreading information on purpose; a lot of the time, it’s just common misconceptions that hurt people. Do you remember the “don’t step on a crack in the sidewalk” gag back in elementary school? It’s a psychological tendency to warn fellow people about potential dangers, and it’s incredibly easy for false claims (i.e., stepping on the crack in the sidewalk can have consequences) to find their way into one of these situations. 

The same is true concerning the pandemic as well. Take, for instance, the misconception that masks cause more deaths than the pandemic itself because they cause carbon dioxide poisoning. If someone were to come across this claim and take it at face value, they might not wear masks at all, or even worse, repost the message on social media to prevent others from wearing masks! With the easy ability to amplify a single message into a global movement overnight on social media platforms, it’s incredibly important to be aware of what’s true and what’s false and having an organized strategy for distinguishing real news from misinformation.  

Anyone can fall victim to misinformation (yes, even you!). Make sure that when you encounter any questionable or hard-to-believe claim, cross-check it with two to three other sources and confirm that it’s true. An excellent way to do this is through Snopes.com, a website that fact-checks common controversial information and provides evidence to back up its claims.

In this decade, believing or not believing a particular piece of information can be the difference between life and death. Make sure you make the right, evidence-based choice.