VT professor speaks on growing trend of misinformation during COVID-19 pandemic


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — As more information comes out about COVID-19 vaccines and the delta variant, so does misinformation. It’s a concern that’s been evident since March of 2020.

“One of the things that social media is very good at doing, is causing the quick spread of misinformation,” said Dr. Mike Horning, an associate professor at the School of Communication at Virginia Tech.

As the delta variant sweeps the nations, and with less than half the United States population fully vaccinated, federal officials like U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, are calling misinformation an urgent threat to public health.

Officials say inaccurate reports are ultimately swaying people’s decisions on whether or not they want to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

For Annamarie, a Roanoke County resident, the choice to get the shot was easy.

“For the safety of family and myself,” said Annamarie.

When it comes to the latest coronavirus information, she says she often avoids reading fake stories online.

“I try to avoid looking at any information about it on Facebook or any type of social media,” said Annamarie. “I try and get it from the source, and I try and guide people.”

Dr. Horning says social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are making efforts to remove misinformation from their websites. The key factor: doing so strategically.

“If you just tell people all the time that your ideas are wrong, that can actually backfire and have a negative effect on whether or not you believe that information to be true,” said Dr. Horning.

Social media companies are also keeping the latest COVID-19 studies in mind.

“The way science works is that we do lots of studies,” said Dr. Horning. “We’ve had it even in the instances with coronavirus. We’ve had a number of retractions on various studies, and the science is slow to work it all out.”

Dr. Horning adds, when it comes to misinformation, it’s ultimately up to the consumer.

“The first thing I think you should do, at any time you’re getting information on social media, you should always approach it with a little bit of skepticism,” said Dr. Horning. “You should make sure you check those facts with reliable sources.”

Experts say consumers will continue to wrestle with misinformation on social media in the near future. The most important tips they stress are:

  • Be mindful of what you consume.
  • Stay cautious with everything you read or see online.
  • Block known sources of COVID-19 misinformation.
  • Stay educated on the latest news from reliable sources.

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