In April 2020, as cases of COVID-19 soared worldwide, United States President, Donald Trump alluded to the benefits of ingesting bleach in fighting the virus. Whether said in earnest or not, the allusion caused a frenzy as public health officials and state agencies rushed to contradict the President‚’s remarks. A month earlier, French Minister of Health, Oliver V√©ran erroneously suggested that anti-inflammatory drugs could be a factor in worsening the infection. Such incidents demonstrate the volatility of ‚’fake news‚’. The prevalence of this term, which describes false or misleading information presented as fact, has increased with the ubiquity of social media and political polarisation. The pandemic has exacerbated such emerging trends in public discourse as a huge amount of misleading and false information about the virus has spread. This has generated, what the UNICEF refers to as an ‚’infodemic‚’. From toxic 5G tower and bio-warfare conspiracy theories to political mobilisation around different health policies, discourse in the time of corona presents a great challenge.
Fake news about the virus is spread both from individuals seeking profit or notoriety, and from states and state-backed actors seeking to advance geopolitical interests (Europe, 2021). Why does this matter? Such misinformation puts global populations at risk by; promoting fake products and services, for example, fake COVID-19 tests and vaccines; by promoting a false sense of security with regard to the contagiousness and severity of the virus; and by promoting suspicion of official, government guidelines. This directly threatens efforts to manage the pandemic.
This infodemic invites the leveraging of behavioral sciences to manage an effective policy response to curb the spread of alarming misinformation about the virus. Perhaps the theory of psychological inoculation, or ‚’pre-bunking‚’, presents an opportunity to confer mass psychological resistance against fake news (Van Der Linden et al., 2020).