MUNCIE — There's an intersection between the information age and a global pandemic — with facts, data, opinions and myths available at your fingertips 24/7.
That information, and misinformation, is guiding people as they make critical decisions about their lives and health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that social media, the polarization of news sources and the rate at which we are learning more about COVID-19 have all contributed to an environment where deliberate disinformation and misinterpretation can easily spread.
"As a hospital physician who is taking care of these patients, who is making the diagnosis, seeing it through, and when we lose patients, participting in filling out the death certificates, nobody is fudging the numbers. There's no hidden agenda or bias here," Dr. Graham Carlos, executive medical director at Eskenazi Health, said. "We're simply doing our very best."
Carlos says some of his patients are confused and hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine or if the virus is even real.
"When I ask them to name their sources, sometimes it's a friend but a lot of times it's stuff they found online," Carlos said. "I ask them to always remember and check to see who is giving you the information you're reading and is it a reputable source. I ask them to look at what they're reading - is this something that's based in data and studies or is this just an opinion piece by a thought leader or a blogger?"
Dr. Johnny Sparks, director of Ball State University's School of Journalism and Strategic Communication, says those wanting to spread misinformation have found fertile soil when it comes to the news about the coronavirus.
"The overall impact of misinformation and disinformation in the pandemic has been the loss of lives and prolonging the duration of the pandemic," Sparks said.
The Kaiser study found local and network TV news are the most trusted media sources for COVID-19 information. It also found belief in COVID-19 misinformation correlates with both vaccination status and partisanship. There's also the risk of seeking out articles that only support preconceived notions.
"The audience member will find themselves pretty shortly within an echo chamber; they're hearing only what others who think exactly like they do think about a particular issue," Sparks said. "It limits exposure to diversity of ideas, opinions and beliefs. And in doing so in an environment such as a global pandemic, it may isolate individuals to the point that they put their lives at risk and the lives of their family and others around them at risk."
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