Beware the COVID-19 Infodemic, Otherwise Face the Consequences

Jan 3 , 2021
By Asegid Getachew

We are living in unprecedented times. A pandemic that humanity - except public health scientists - has least expected and is less prepared for has engulfed the entire world. Economies have plunged into a deep recession, millions have lost their lives, tens of millions have contracted the virus, and many have lost their jobs and have found it difficult to put bread on the table.

As if the devastation it has already caused is not enough, the virus keeps on wreaking havoc by mutating into a new variant that is more transmissible than the one we already know. It has already been the cause for further lockdown measures in the United Kingdom.

As the pandemic progresses, our understanding and perception of the virus are being shaped by two forces: science and conspiracy theories.

Science, with all its methodological rigour and time-tested record of accuracy, has been serving as a credible source of information. Thanks to the scientific community, for instance, we know everything about what the virus is, how it is being transmitted, which segment of the population it severely affects and how effectively we can prevent ourselves from catching it. The scientific community has also done an incredible job of developing an effective vaccine that will hopefully help cull the spread of the virus.

On the flipside, conspiracy theories have played a negative role in giving people a distorted view of the virus and the pandemic.

Conspiracy theories by their nature “attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the actions of a small powerful group. Such explanations reject the accepted narrative surrounding those events; indeed, the official version may be seen as further proof of the conspiracy,” as Encyclopedia Britannica explains it.

The most prominent conspiracy theories during the early periods of the pandemic include: the virus is bioengineered to attack Western civilisation; smart and influential individuals like Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist that has been sounding the alarm for such a pandemic since 2016, have purposefully manufactured the virus to inoculate us with microchips in the name of vaccination; and that 5G network towers are the source and transmitters of COVID-19.

And as the pandemic started tightening its grip, a whole influx of conspiracy theories started to emerge. Some of them include: the virus is a “hoax”; the pandemic is simply an instrument designed to control the movement of individuals; the virus is manufactured to erase some groups of individuals from the face of the earth. It went on and on.

After the scientific community confirmed the development of efficacious vaccines, an amusing conspiracy theory emerged propagating a message that people getting vaccinated will turn into crocodiles.

The scary thing is that such messages are sometimes propagated by influential public figures, celebrities and persona grata. These individuals have a significantly large fan base that is willing to accept whatever is communicated by them.

Rhetoric devoid of scientific evidence inevitably harms society. The effort exerted by the scientific community to contain the further spread of the virus will never bear fruit as long as there are individuals committed to believing in conspiracy theories. The pandemic has already crushed humanity. If we let conspiracy theories reach the multitude without effective challenges and affect their perception of the pandemic, the virus will lead to more infections, deaths, and further lockdowns. This will make a road to recovery hard, even with the help of a vaccine.

A coordinated and concerted effort is required to mitigate the influx of conspiracy theories and ensure that every decision regarding COVID-19 is based on scientific data.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 03,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1079]

 is an assistant professor and research scholar at Andhra University. He can be reached at

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