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Don’t trust your screen: how the coronavirus lexicon creates confusion by Shanjida Hossain

Whenever I look for symptoms, the internet tells me I’m going to die! In fact, there are millions of Brits who, in the event of minor disturbances, look for information online, in fear of having contracted or wanting information to help prevent the virus. Sadly, a survey conducted in September 2020 by Statista UK shows that 64% of interviewees came across misleading information at least once a day. This fake news is mostly aimed towards a younger audience as the majority is spread through social media. Young people who are more familiar with technology and have greater access to it also often feel embarrassed by showing ignorance or fear getting fully quarantined, therefore fail to seek professional advice and instead look for quick solutions on the internet. “This may look like quick and comfortable first aid but bear in mind that this could put us into a much greater health risk than the virus itself,” says Professor Maria Zambon, director of the virology department of Public Health England.

Don’t trust your screen: how the coronavirus lexicon creates confusion by Shanjida Hossain, Artwork by Annabel Carr

“Infodemic” costs lives:

Research says that at least 800 people worldwide may have died due to misinformation in the first three months of this year. In addition, people continue to rely on self-medication with so-called “miracle cures” for the virus, such as drinking chlorine dioxide (an industrial bleach), urine, etc. Surfing the internet is like navigating the sea: you need to have reference points and tools. “It is important to pay attention to where the news comes from. It can be reasonably trusted if the information comes from well-known hospitals and medical faculties, from scientific societies with a long tradition, from institutional bodies, such as the World Health Organisation or other health organisations,” advises Professor Zambon. She also adds that, during this pandemic, building trust between various national and international health organisations and citizens has become quite challenging since this “infodemic” took over online platforms. “This could be intentionally or unintentionally but it’s certainty doing more harm than good,” she warns. Indeed, the internet is a double-edged sword. The network offers unimaginable potential, but on the other hand there are also all those dangers we have indicated. Then what to trust?

The five rules for secure information:

  • Any site offering medical advice should clearly show the name of its owners or sponsors.
  • You should always check the date of the last update or the copyright date so the information is up to date with the current circumstances.
  • A website is likely to be more reliable if it explicitly mentions the importance of your relationship with your doctor first and declares that the information provided does not replace the advice your doctor or specialist can provide.
  • The site should have an editorial board or an advisory board.
  • The provenance of the information must be accompanied by explicit references and, if possible, by links to scientific publications.

Health must always be protected. The use of search engines and social networks should in no way replace a professional’s advice. A degree in medicine and the continuous updating of the doctor’s specialist knowledge with many years of experience cannot be replaced in any way by life experiences lived by real or virtual friends.

False knowledge: it’s more dangerous than ignorance!

Shanjida Hossain is 22 years old and lives in Manchester, UK. She is a first year Law student at the Manchester Metropolitan University who is passionate about article writing.