Information viruses—i.e., misinformation, false information, and incomplete information—are being spread far and wide. See, for instance, the Wall Street Journal article, Infodemic: When Unreliable Information Spreads Far and Wide by Ben Zimmer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of: “A massive ‘infodemic’, 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.” This dangerous mixture of true and false information is zipped around the world at unprecedented speeds, fueling confusion, panic, and statist measures.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “infodemic” (short for “information epidemic,” a term coined by political scientist David J. Rothkopf in 2003) as: “A surfeit of information about a problem that is viewed as being a detriment to its solution.” The current “infodemic” about COVID-19 has infected federal, state, and local governments, who are taking draconian actions that are crippling the economy and severely disrupting the lives of people around the world.
Earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal, Rothkopf referenced the SARS epidemic, writing, “A few facts, mixed with fear, speculation, and rumor, amplified and relayed swiftly worldwide by modern information technologies, have affected national and international economies, politics, and even securities, in ways that are utterly disproportionate with the root realities.” Does that sound like what is happening now?
Rothkopf observed that “there were strong similarities between the way a disease spread through a population and the way an idea would ‘go viral’ on the Net.” With respect to SARS, he said, “The ‘infodemic’ impacted more people than the underlying epidemic that triggered it.” That is certainly true of the current destructive rampage shutting down large parts of the world.
As the article concludes, “With social media whipping up a global panic surrounding the Coronavirus, we just might be facing the biggest ‘infodemic’ of all.” Yes, and the economic consequences are and will continue to be devastating.