February 9, 2023

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Covid-19 is still stubbornly present. The same goes for misinformation about viruses.

As Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in parts of the country, myths and misleading narratives continue to develop and spread, angering overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.

Rumors that began in 2020 casting doubt on the existence or severity of Covid quickly devolved into wild claims about dangerous technology lurking in face masks and unproven medicines such as IvermectinThe rollout of a vaccine last year sparked another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, on top of all the claims that are still circulating, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatment, the researchers said.

Misinformation researchers say these ideas are still thriving on social media platforms, and the constant stream of attacks, now accumulated over the years, is making accurate advice increasingly difficult to break through. This leaves people already suffering from pandemic fatigue further accustomed to the constant dangers of Covid and vulnerable to other harmful medical content.

“It’s easy to forget that health misinformation, including about Covid, can still keep people from getting vaccinated or create stigma,” says Megan Marelli, editorial director of Meedan, a nonprofit focused on digital literacy and access to information. Marrelli) said. “We know for a fact that health misinformation contributes to the spread of real-world disease.”

The researchers paid particular attention to Twitter. The company recently disbanded the team tasked with checking for dangerous or inaccurate material on the platform, stop execution Its Covid misinformation policy and started making some content moderation decisions based on public polls released by its new owner and chief executive, billionaire Elon Musk.

From November 1 to December 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms like “deep state,” “hoax” and “biological weapon.” The tweets attracted more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.

The number of toxic substances spiked late last month following the release of a film in which it made baseless claims that a Covid-19 vaccine had triggered “the largest orchestrated death in world history”, researchers said.

Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Australia’s Federation University who helped conduct the study with digital media expert Timothy Graham at Queensland University of Technology, said Twitter’s misinformation policy helped curb the anti-vaccination that was common on the platform in 2015 and 2016 Content. From January 2020 to September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts for violating its Covid misinformation policy.

Now, says Dr. Smith, the protective barrier is collapsing “in real time, which is academically interesting but absolutely terrifying.”

“Before Covid, people who believed in medical misinformation were usually just talking to each other, contained in their own little bubble, and you had to do some work to find that bubble,” she said. “But now, you don’t have to do any work to find that information — it shows up in your feed along with any other type of information.”

Several high-profile Twitter accounts suspended in recent weeks for spreading baseless claims about the coronavirus have been reinstated, including Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green and vaccine skeptic Robert Malone account.

Mr Musk himself has used Twitter to weigh in on the pandemic, predicting in March 2020 that the US could beClose to zero new cases” By the end of April of that year. (More than 100,000 positive tests Report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the last week of the month. ) this month, he took aim at Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who will soon step down as President Biden’s chief medical adviser and longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Mr Musk said Dr Fauci should be prosecuted.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. Other major social platforms, including TikTok and YouTube, said last week they remained committed to fighting Covid misinformation.

YouTube Prohibited Content—Including Videos, Comments, and Links—About vaccine with Coronavirus disease This contradicts advice from local health authorities or the World Health Organization.facebook Covid-19 Policy Content exceeds 4,500 words. TikTok says it has removed more than 250,000 videos Covid misinformation and working with partners such as its Content Advisory Council to develop its policies and enforcement strategies. (Mr. Musk disbanded Twitter’s advisory board this month.)

But these platforms have struggled to enforce their Covid rules.

news guardAn organization that tracks misinformation online found that typing “covid vaccine” into TikTok this fall led it to suggest searches for “covid vaccine injury” and “covid vaccine warning,” while the same query on Google led to “walk– In covid vaccines” and “Types of covid vaccines”. According to the researchers, a search for “mRNA vaccine” on TikTok found five videos containing false claims among the top 10 results. TikTok said in a statement that its community guidelines “make it clear that we don’t allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we remove it from our platform.”

Dr. Anish Agarwal, an emergency physician in Philadelphia, said that over the past few years, people would get medical advice from neighbors or try to self-diagnose with a Google search. Now, years after the pandemic, he still has patients who believe “crazy” claims on social media that a Covid vaccine will have robots implanted in their arms.

“We battle it every day,” said Dr. Agarwal, who teaches at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and is associate director of Penn Medicine’s Center for Digital Health.

Dr Agarwal said the online and offline discussion about the coronavirus was in flux, with patients recently asking him questions about booster shots and long-term Covid. He received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the social media habits of different populations in relation to the coronavirus.

“Going forward, understanding our behavior and thinking around Covid may also reveal how individuals interact with other health information on social media, and how we actually use social media to combat misinformation,” he said.

Heidi J. Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said years of lies and rumors about Covid had had a contagious effect, hurting public acceptance of all vaccines.

“Rumours about Covid are not going away — they’re going to be repurposed and they’ll be adapted,” she said. “We can’t delete it. No one company can fix this.”

Some efforts to slow the spread of misinformation about the virus have run afoul of First Amendment concerns.

A law passed in California a few months ago and set to go into effect next month will punish doctors who spread false information about a Covid vaccine. It already faces legal challenges from plaintiffs who say the rule is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.Tech companies including Meta, Google and Twitter have all faced lawsuits this year from people banned for Covid misinformation, claiming company crossing the line in their content moderation efforts, while other lawsuits accuse the platforms of not doing enough Curbing misleading narratives about the pandemic.

Dr. Graham Walker, an emergency physician in San Francisco, said rumors about the pandemic that have spread online have prompted him and many of his colleagues to try to right things wrong on social media. He posted multiple Twitter threads containing more than a hundred evidence-rich tweets in an attempt to debunk misinformation about the coronavirus.

But this year, he said, he has increasingly felt overwhelmed by the onslaught of toxic content about various medical issues. He left Twitter after the company dropped its Covid misinformation policy.

“I’m starting to think it’s not a battle to win,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a fair fight.”

Now Dr. Walker said he was watching a “triple sickness” of Covid-19, RSV and flu hit the health care system, causing emergency room wait times to balloon from less than an hour to six hours in some hospitals. Misinformation about readily available treatments is at least partly to blame, he said.

“If we had a bigger increase in the number of people vaccinated with the newest vaccine, maybe fewer people would get seriously ill with Covid, and that would certainly reduce the number of hospitalizations,” he said. “Honestly, at this point, we would Do what we can.”

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