By Emma Okonji
Google has stated that misinformation, coupled with anxiety, aggravated the effect of Covid-19 pandemic on human beings globally.
Speaking at a recent webinar organised by Google, its Public Policy and Government Relations Manager, Alina Dimofte, explained that with the fast-paced nature of digital communication, a deluge of information overwhelmed people such that fake news and other forms of misinformation, presented another dimension of the challenge posed by the pandemic, which she said, was as bad as the virus itself.
She said such deluge of misinformation on various social media, came at a time when the world desired to stay uninfected and alive, especially at the period when unpleasant global news shot up the need for people to seek and consume online information so as to stay abreast of the news especially as the virus is novel and its behaviour is still not completely unraveled.
According to Dimofte, “The world has advanced to the point where information plays vital roles in governance, business, and individual lives. Where information builds, therefore, misinformation can destroy.
“Since 27 February 2020, when Nigeria first reported its coronavirus index case, information about the deadly virus has been spreading.
“In the third week of March, when schools and religious bodies were closed and a lockdown was imminent, the flow of COVID-19 information increased and so did anxiety.
“While there is the NCDC and the ministries of health constantly providing updates to the citizens of Nigeria, a lot of other news kept flying round the internet and social networks.
“Some of the information that has been passed around and massively shared includes the consumption of alcohol, inhaling of hot steam, exposure to heat or ultraviolet rays from sunlight, the use of herbs like neem, ingestion of disinfectants and cleaning agents, all to cure or prevent coronavirus.
“There have also been conspiracy theories like the 5G as the cause of coronavirus, the Chinese as an untrusted initiator of COVID-19, and the use of hydroxychloroquine to cure coronavirus, and the news that global powers intend to depopulate the world via a pre-infected vaccine.
“At some point, blue face masks were said to be contaminated from Europe and America. In the midst of all these, misleading information designed to defraud victims also fly around online platforms.”
The rumours, hypotheses, and unconfirmed health information have been so rife online that the World Health Organisation (WHO) termed the development “Infodemic.”
Earlier, WHO partnered the UK government to create awareness about the risk of incorrect and false COVID-19 information, Dimofte said.
She, however said Google on its part, has been helping information seekers to discover trustworthy COVID-19 content by giving prominence to trustworthy information, sieving out misinformation, and providing vital support to partners at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight and information dissemination.
“Google had announced, in January 2020, its new efforts to reduce recommendations of borderline content or videos that could misinform users in harmful ways. This is still in place, adapting to new issues and trends as they develop, in the continuation of improvements to reduce the amplification of misinformation.
“In the area of optimising trustworthy information through the enhancement of its visibility, Google tightened its quality control in its search ranking systems to give prominence to more valuable content; and also ran over 464,065 experiments in 2019 alone, involving trained external search quality evaluators and live user tests.”