The infodemic of COVID-19 explained

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Courtesy of MIT Technology Review/ENVATO

With the flood of new information on social media, it can be difficult to filter through it all.

With the rise of COVID-19 as a global health crisis, the public is experiencing a surplus of information, informally known as an infodemic.

With the rapid spread of COVID-19 and online misinformation about this disease, it is clear that journalism’s role in combating unreliable news has never been more important.

Furthermore, the public must be extremely cautious of the information being absorbed, learning and utilizing tools to navigate a pandemic of misinformation.

All these complex feelings develop mainly because people are exposed to incredible amounts of information, including sources without credibility.”

— Dr. Anatha Babbili

In efforts to further understand the communication crisis regarding this issue, Dr. Anantha Babbili has offered their expert advice on the subject. Babbili worked as a journalist in India and Asia, and was a consultant for the UN, UNESCO and several media organizations on international and intercultural communication. Babbili is currently a Professor of Communications, and served as the past Provost and Chief Academic Affairs Officer at Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi.

“With all the unproven cures that are posted on social media as news, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized this early on and cautioned the world to not be influenced by such an infodemic,” said Babbili.

Despite warnings from WHO and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the general public continues to receive a rapid flow of information that can be difficult to discern whether or not it is credible.

“I’m using that for my research now,” said Babbili. “I am documenting the varying different ways people can be misled in this time of crisis which leads to a deepening of emotional aspects of human reaction.

“All these complex feelings develop mainly because people are exposed to incredible amounts of information, including sources without credibility.”

In response to the current infodemic, a potential solution has been offered to connect the public with credible information during future times of crisis.

“I am going to advocate that we should have a world journalism platform that will take over during times of crisis,” said Babbili. “It must be privately and publicly funded, and there will be first rate journalists from all over the world feeding into this platform.

“While I am advocating that, I am also seeing the reality of how news media and local news outlets are being severely affected themselves by this pandemic.”

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Instagram have seen a rise in user activity and a surge of news content in recent months, leaving local news outlets to take a critical blow from the lack of user engagement.

“Big media has voluntarily decided to cooperate during this time of crisis,” said Babbili. “They have shown their capacity to be human. Capitalism finally gained its conscience.”

When asked about the measures taken locally with the passing of the stay at home order put into effect by Corpus Christi Judge Barbara Canales last week, Babbili expressed admiration towards the communication efforts taken by the city to the public.

“I think our County Judge Barbara Canales was very, very clear and went to great extent to explain what exactly a stay at home order is and what the public can do at this time,” said Babbili.

Babbili, along with several other members of university faculty and staff, have continued to show up to work and assist students through limited social contact.

“We are maintaining social distancing, we’re cheerful and we are taking precautions on campus to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Babbili.

Correction 4/3/2020, 7:45 p.m.: The article has been updated to signify that Dr. Babbili served as the past provost. We regret this error.