OPINION: 'Misinfodemic' as vicious as coronavirus

Ellen T. Tordesillas

Posted at Jan 29 2020 02:05 PM

As of yesterday, the Philippines was free from coronavirus infection and no Filipino has been reported to have been sick from the virus.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday said, "Still, there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (2019nCoV) in the country."

That should squelch all those lies that are spreading faster than the fast-spreading virus that has claimed the lives of some 100 people in Wuhan, a city in the province of Hubei in China, and has reached a dozen other countries, including Australia, France. Germany and the United States.

Duque warned of another danger to the public: infodemic.

"Infodemic means the spread of false or baseless pieces of information. And let’s not be party to such a propagation because otherwise, this problem, this misinformation can be more viral than the virus that we all are guarding against. So, this is an infodemic, we don’t want to be party to its spread," he said.

Meedan, a non-profit social technology company which builds digital tools for global journalism and translation, calls it 
“misinfodemic” and considers it a growing public health issue.

In its primer on “Health Equity through Health Fact checking,” Meedan says “The virality and reach in today’s digital information ecosystem widens and amplifies fears and misunderstandings around health topics like vaccinations, diagnostic processes, treatments, and interventions, requiring public-health practitioners to simultaneously battle the spread of misinformation alongside the spread of disease.”

Last Sunday, I got this message through my Facebook messenger from a friend: “Mag mask kayo. May positive na sa corona virus dito sa Alabang. Nagpacheckup yung Chinese sa HP Alabang, napositive tapos nagpasecond opinion sa Asian Hosp, nagpositive ulit at naka quarantine na. Di binabalita sa news. Pero nagsabi sa akin yung ka work ko galing sa sister in law niya na nagwowork mismo sa HP Alabang.”

It’s classic tsismis, spreading unverified information but at the same time distancing from the supposed source, who is a co-worker, who got it from his/her sister-in-law. 

Asian Hospital and Medical City have issued denials. 

“In view of the speculations circulated through text messages and social media about a patient case with confirmed 2019-nCov within Asian Hospital and Medical Center, we would like to assure the public and all concerned that there is no confirmed 2019-nCov patient case within Asian Hospital and Medical Center,” the hospital said.

Muntinlupa City Health Office chief Dr. Teresa Tuliao also issued a statement denying the viral message: “Upon coordination and monitoring with our local hospitals, we have no verified novel coronavirus case in Muntinlupa City as of January 27. We are also closely coordinating with public health officials from DOH and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine regarding this issue."

VERA Files’ Fact Check also belied rumors about 2019-nCov cases in Boracay and Cebu. 

On Jan. 22, a FB user uploaded as his profile picture a collage of screen captures of four Tweets: one is a re-share of a Jan. 21 ABS-CBN report about a 5-year-old tourist who tested positive for “coronavirus” in Cebu, with a netizen writing as its caption, “the virus is already at Boracay Island”; two other Tweets claimed there were positive coronavirus cases in Cebu province and “allegedly in Manila”; while the last one claimed that “corona virus” has “reached the Philippines.”

The 5-year-old boy in Cebu , who came from Wuhan, turned out negative of 2019-nCov, DOH said. None of the tourists from Wuhan who arrived in Boracay during Chinese New Year tested positive of 2019-nCov. All of them have been sent back to Wuhan.

It is not happening only in the Philippines. The International Fact Checking Network has been coordinating since January 24 with at least 48 fact-checking organizations from 30 countries, VERA Files included, to debunk false information about the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Authorities advise the public to take the usual sanitary practices: Wash your hands often and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds; Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Most importantly, don’t pass on unverified information on 2019nCoV. 

Don’t be a party to misinfodemic.

 Email: ellentordesillas@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.