Here’s how social media can combat the coronavirus ‘infodemic’

Upload your content

By Joan Donovan, PhD, Director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard Kennedy’s Shorenstein Center


In the middle of a massive and growing coronavirus shutdown, social media is more important than ever. With soft quarantines in place, Facebook, Twitter, and other services are taking on an entirely new valence as the foundation for our everyday lives—a crucial conduit between families, friends, and coworkers, as well as much-needed entertainment. As we become more isolated physically, social media and the web will also have to shoulder the world’s information needs as more and more people seek timely and local information. 


And yet the World Health Organization worries that in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, they must also combat an infodemic, which it defines as “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” In a press conference over the weekend, Governor Baker reminded listeners that TV and newspapers are the most reliable ways to obtain information, and he warned against relying on social media.  


How could platforms rise to the occasion? Social-media companies must sort, rank, and prioritize true and reliable information now more than ever. Web companies such as Pinterest have already introduced headers and links on their homepages with information about Covid-19, for example.


But misinformation isn’t just a problem of content; it’s also one of transmission. In desperate situations, government officials can activate emergency alert systems across mobile phones, cable TV, and radio to reach the public. Today, however, no such emergency protocols exist for social media. As the WHO battles the coronavirus infodemic, what assurances does the public need that critical information is prioritized? 


Explore further

Country and region United States of America
Share this

Please note: Content is displayed as last posted by a PreventionWeb community member or editor. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of UNDRR, PreventionWeb, or its sponsors. See our terms of use

Is this page useful?

Yes No
Report an issue on this page

Thank you. If you have 2 minutes, we would benefit from additional feedback (link opens in a new window).