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As coronavirus spreads so are misinformation and fake news Updated: 2020-02-07 16:38:19 KST

The news about the novel coronavirus is bad and is getting worse.
In terms of its potential for devastation, the current virus is in close competition with the 2003 SARS. Infections have already surpassed that of SARS cases, and while the new disease doesn't seem as deadly as SARS, fatalities are edging upward.
The human toll also comes with an economic one, and China's economy is far more essential to the global economy now than it was in 2003, giving new meaning to the old nostrum; when China sneezes, the world catches a cold.
And this time the world's capacity to catch that cold is far worse, in part due to the rise of social media.
Seventeen years ago, during the SARS scare, the world wasn't hooked on social media.
Today, we can expect digital viruses - the re-tweetable tweets, the likeable posts, the shareable memes - to rideshare with the coronavirus.
So much that the WHO has coined a term "infodemic" - a combination of information and epidemic - as an epidemic that poses just a big a threat as the coronavirus epidemic itself.
Epidemic and fake news - the topic of our News In Depth with Gyu Tag LEE, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University Korea and Choi Eun-kyung, Chunnam Techno University.
Welcome to the program.

Viral misinformation could worsen the global public health emergency.
No doubt, social media can help as a powerful tool for public health messaging, educating and debunking myths.
Unfortunately, the myth-makers tend to beat the educators and debunkers.
According to a recent MIT study, false news is 70-percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories, with truth traveling six times slower than falsehood.
It is de rigueur to give the social media giants a failing grade. In your view, how do you think the social media industry has performed so far amid this coronavirus outbreak?

To be sure, the scale of the challenge is daunting. Rumors have gone into hyper-drive across platforms: they have stoked waves of Sinophobia and racism, blaming the outbreak on false claims that the Chinese have a regular habit of eating bats. The short-video sharing app, TikTok, has been particularly active, with numerous posts spreading misinformation.
Obviously, misinformation is devastating especially in health crises such as the one we're experiencing. How do we keep tabs on the spread of such misinformation?

Alarmist statistics have also been spreading - a tweet with over 140-thousand "likes" predicted 65 million deaths which is a debunked claim along with false remedies, prophylatics and cures. Some posts recommend drinking bleach. Virality is assured when the misinformation jumps platforms. A thread retweeted thousands of times by a YouTube conspiracist suggests the coronavirus was developed for use as a vaccine. It's now found another new life on Facebook.

The WHO is turning the big tech companies around in their favor to make strides in combating rumors and falsehoods on the internet about the new infection.
How are they doing that?

Link to "mythbusters.'

Governments across Asia are stepping up arrests over a growing scourge of misinformation related to the coronavirus outbreak. Arrests of more than 20 people across six countries show the extent to which governments are policing social media as they seek to prevent panic and further economic damage. First of all, how is South Korea policing different types of misinformation and fake news related to the coronavirus?

Countries vary with the level of law enforcement.

What would you say is the role of the media in times of such health crises in delivering accurate information to the public?

What are some practices from the consumers' end to discern fake news?

And, of course, in this day and age of vibrant social media, everyone is a consumer of information on these platforms, but also creators. How should we, as individuals, use these platforms?

Gyu Tag LEE, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University Korea and Choi Eun-kyung, Chunnam Techno University, many thanks for your insights this evening. We appreciate it.
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