As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, an "infodemic" of misinformation, myths, and racism is also threatening populations.
One of the harmful aspects of this infodemic involves prejudice toward Chinese people.
This sort of bigotry is impeding the pandemic response by misdirecting public attention away from solutions and stoking public anger, fear, and hatred, according to Celina Su, who compared the political atmosphere surrounding the pandemic to the one around the AIDS crisis.
"In the early days of the AIDS crisis in the US, even though HIV is a biological virus that can transmit to all people, it was weaponized to stigmatize certain populations rather than be used to improve public health and different parts of our infrastructure," Su, the Marilyn J. Gittell chair in urban studies at the City of New York Graduate Center, told Global Citizen. "At one point people called it 'gay cancer.'"
"The coronavirus is bringing up similar political fissures and can be weaponized to fuel xenophobia," she added.
Much of the rest of the misinformation involves misleading claims about COVID-19 cures and treatments, and false descriptions of the virus and the nature of the pandemic. These include the claim that the virus is less infectious than the flu, the claim that drinking water frequently will flush out the virus and prevent illness, and the claim that holding your breath is a way to test if you’re carrying the disease.
These myths undermine efforts to promote good hygiene and social distancing rules throughout populations, and they confuse the public when it comes to what to expect, which makes it hard to contain the virus.
"This crisis is really about science and nature, but it ends up being so much about politics," Su said. "We need a surer hand from leaders who have to give the best information about how people can take care of themselves."
To stay up to date on the latest accurate information, visit the World Health Organization's (WHO) website.
For some fast facts on COVID-19 that can help prevent the spread of misinformation, here are 12 myths that the WHO has debunked.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.