The COVID-19 crisis shows how dangerous misinformation becomes contagious, CS’s Mark Dredze, LA Times

April 29, 2020
Mark Dredze

John C. Malone Associate Professor Mark Dredze

In olden times, it was fairly easy to identify the sources of misinformation and cultural ignorance: They were either commercial entities that profited from misleading the public, such as tobacco companies, or conspiracy theorists and other inhabitants of the lunatic fringe.

“When it comes to misinformation, I normally tell people not to trust information unless it comes from a trusted source,” says Mark Dredze, an expert at Johns Hopkins University on how health-related misinformation and disinformation spread via social media. “Don’t take your health information from random websites and don’t take any medication without talking to your doctor.

“But how do you tell people to trust the federal government, but don’t pay attention to the president of the United States?”

That’s the question posed by a paper by Dredze and collaborators from Harvard, Oxford and UC San Diego published Wednesday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

The authors studied Google searches seeking information on how to buy chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, the drugs touted by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and President Trump as possible treatments for COVID-19, the coronavirus-caused pandemic.

They found that immediately after Musk and Trump began promoting the drugs as effective treatments for COVID-19, searches for purchasing information soared.

In just the two weeks after Musk first mentioned the drugs as possible treatments March 16, followed by a Trump tweet March 19, searches for purchase information rose by more than 200,000 over the average level before the COVID-19 crisis.

Read more at Los Angeles Times.

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