Fighting the Other Pandemic: Misinformation

1st May, 2020

Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications, is a communication, media, and public relations expert with over 35 years in the industry, having co-founded Jericho Communications and served as president from 1985 until its successful merger in 2006 with LIME Public Relations & Promotions. In our weekly suggestions, we recommend his article published in the International Associations of Business Comunicators on disinformation tactics in times of Pandemic.

In the wake of the explosive COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, governments, health organizations and news organizations have been struggling to contain both the virus and the rampant misinformation about it that continues to permeate the media landscape. Inconsistent and contradictory information has created confusion and a lack of trust, and has done little to encourage people to take reasonable precautions. The goal of any leader or communication professional in a crisis like this should be to develop a clear, coherent and consistent messaging strategy to ensure public health.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has caused an avalanche of false claims and misinformation. Conspiracies abound, spread through social media and word-of-mouth, regarding the origin of the virus as well as how it can be contracted, transmitted and treated. These rumors lend credence to the global anxiety about if and how the disease can be contained. Blatantly false and dangerous rumors that bleach, colloidal silver and essential oils are all effective treatments have created a malignant cottage industry of snake oil cures that further feeds into this infodemic. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has so far sanctioned seven businesses for promoting their products as a “coronavirus cure.

In the midst of this pandemic, reactions and statements by government and health officials have offered confusing and often contradictory advice. People under quarantine have received inconsistent directives from state health officials about what they can and cannot do, how the quarantine affects those closest to them and where, as well as how or if they’ll be tested for the virus itself.

And stories of these confounding experiences make headlines, exacerbating the climate of mistrust and uncertainty for the populace at large. In short, the narrative has gotten away from leadership, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.


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