The past 12 months have challenged us in ways that few could have ever predicted. COVID-19 has been an extreme challenge to both physical and economic health. However, disinformation related to this pandemic viral disease has seriously increased the damage to our physical and financial health.
Question: What is disinformation?
Answer: Merriam- Webster Dictionary defines disinformation as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”
In the past, disinformation would have been called propaganda, and it is a significant feature of Russian pro- paganda today.
Q: How is disinformation harming health?
A: The most notable example is the widespread denial of the severity of COVID-19 that led to the refusal to socially distance or wear face masks in the name of personal freedom. Similarly, false information now affects the acceptability of vaccines that provide personal protection and eventual return to normalcy.
COVID-19 disinformation is now indirectly killing more people daily than 9/11 and leaving thousands of unemployed, homeless and food-insecure people. Disinformation has needlessly disrupted American life to an unprecedented extent.
Q: Are there other examples of disinformation that are harming health?
A: Yes. We all desire to live in a safe environment and feel in control. These tendencies are taken advantage of by those soft- pedaling food fears. These fears come in many different wrappings, from exaggerating so-called superfoods to demonizing nutrient-rich animal foods. These propaganda messages about “good” and “bad” foods have muddled the importance of consuming the 30-plus essential nutrients critical to maintaining health.
Q: How does disinformation/propaganda work?
A: A critical first step in creating an effective disinformation environment is to dislodge trust in legitimate information sources. Social media platforms allow propaganda to spread widely and loudly throughout society with few checks and balances. Misinformation is especially dangerous when false information is broadcast by friends and family or people in positions or organizations you have trusted. Politicians are not health experts and should only make health-related decisions based on expert guidance.
Q: What happens if not enough people are willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of disinformation?
A: Because of this virus’ nature, Dr. Anthony Fauci indicates that 75-85% of us need to get vaccinated to establish herd immunity. Stopping this pandemic requires us to get vaccinated, continue to social-distance and wear masks until the CDC indicates otherwise.
Scientists have been working for years on developing new vaccine technologies. The new mRNA vaccines do not contain the live virus and do not change your DNA. If you think you should not get vaccinated, speak with your doctor about possible reasons for taking that risk. The state Department of Health is a reliable source of factual information that can be trusted. Visit hawaiicovid19.com/vaccine.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.