Beliefs in COVID-19 Myths and Conspiracies: An Urgent Call to Action - Area Practicalintroduction

Reviewed by : Indrawan Vpp

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Introduction

Myths and Conspiracies. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on economic, social, and psychological well-being. Throughout the pandemic, a large amount of misinformation regarding COVID-19 has spread worldwide, and the endorsing of such unscientific beliefs has risky implications for public health. For instance, Myths and Conspiracies believing the COVID-19 pandemic to be a hoax is related to lower containment behaviors (Imhoff & Lamberty, 2020). 


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In this sense, endorsing COVID-19 theory both of Myths and Conspiracies is associated with diminished health-protective behaviors such as recurrent hand washing, and social distancing, among other risk behaviors (Allington et al., 2020). Understanding the factors related to such beliefs is imperative to designing public interventions that aim to reduce COVID-19 misconceptions and promote protective behaviors (van der Linden et al., 2020). As such, this paper pretends to briefly review the available literature and the topic and discuss its implications for public policy about Myths and conspiracies.


Common COVID-19 related Myths and Conspiracies

Some common Myths regarding COVID-19 include (WHO, 2020a):

1. taking vitamin and mineral supplements can cure COVID-19,

2. COVID-19 is caused by bacteria,

3. drinking alcohol or bleach can protect against the virus,

4. consuming hot peppers can prevent or cure COVID-19,

5. it can be transmitted through houseflies or mosquito bites,

6. COVID-19 can be spread through 5G networks,

7. exposure to hot climate temperatures protects against the virus,

8. holding your breath for 10 or more seconds without discomfort is an effective self-diagnostic       technique,

9. hand dryers kill the COVID-19 virus,

10. eating garlic prevents COVID-19, and

11. young people are immune to the virus.



On the other hand, common Conspiracies regarding COVID-19 include (Stein et al., 2021):

1. believing the pandemic is a hoax,

2. believing COVID-19 is being used as an artificial bioweapon and,

3. believing that COVID-19 vaccines are being used to implant microchips on people.


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Endorsement of COVID-19 Myths and Conspiracies: related factors and Consequences 


Conspiracies of mentality is an attribute of cognition interacting with social contexts. In this sense, COVID-19 Myths and Conspiracies beliefs are connected to low levels of trust in a context of threat and from low levels of comprehensive, accessible information in a context of unknowns and uncertainty (Mulukom et al., 2020). The belief in COVID-19 Myths and Conspiracies are negatively predicted by health literacy (Duplaga, 2020), therefore governments must promote strategies that aim to educate the public on the epidemiological dynamic of the virus.

Social media consumption also increases the likelihood of someone endorsing COVID-19 Myths and Conspiracies theory (Allington et al., 2020). For instance, specific Myths and Conspiracies, such as the causal link between COVID-19 and 5G networks, had been widely disseminated through social media platforms which were later further promoted by religious leaders, politicians, and celebrities (Bruns et al., 2020). The use of social media as a tool facilitating the spread of misinformation has led platforms, such as Twitter, to flag posts with dubious information that result of Myths and Conspiracies.


However, Myths and Conspiracies are worth noting that social media can also be used to rapidly spread scientific information regarding COVID-19 (Patel et al., 2021). As for the fake news provided by the media and the news channels misinformation, in most cases, has had causal effects on fear at the individual level and instability at the social level to break out of Myths and Conspiracies. We know that fear can mystify people’s reason and obstructs rational thinking and ignore objective facts. Therefore, in a cataclysm crisis, there is a need to gather information, and the vast amount of data often include true and false information. A recent study reveals that there are risk perception and risk communication that have significant factors that impact Myths and Conspiracies believing fake news related to COVID-19 (Kim & Kim, 2020). Understanding the effects of misinformation on public behavior is urgent as it can undermine the efforts in controlling the pandemic. For example, Myths and Conspiracies exposure to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation significantly reduces peoples’ acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines (Loomba et al., 2021).


Myths and Conspiracies are essential for lawmakers, politicians, celebrities, and every other person with influence over media content to push for evidence-based information to be divulged, and not rely considerably on popular opinion. The misinformation like Myths and Conspiracies of the public only increases the risk of adopting harmful practices that may lead to an even larger increase in cases (WHO, 2020b).


While facing a crisis such as COVID-19, governments will tend to adopt a “blame avoidance” strategy, designed to share or avoid an issue such as Myths and Conspiracies, or even a “credit claiming” strategy when fighting for validation and survival (Colfer, 2020), which may lead to acting over imperfect information, under uncertainty, time pressure, and higher scrutiny in decision making. Thus, making it is an even greater matter to consider empirical evidence over popular belief in the process of decision over public policies.


From a public health perspective, the importance of transparency must not be minimized; providing the public with ways to ensure that resources are being used efficiently, gaining support and credibility from the people, while also ensuring that open communication is provided to improve the defective faith in the government is key for effective policies to be delivered and reduced a Myths and Conspiracies (Inter-American Development Bank, 2020). In this sense, a recent study concluded that trust in the government is a significant predictor of peoples’ acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine (Lazarus et al., 2021). Thus, increasing the government’s transparency on the management of the COVID-19 pandemic may have beneficial effects on the public’s attitudes such as Myths and Conspiracies to toward vaccination.


Closing remarks


A massive amount of information regarding COVID-19 has rapidly spread worldwide; however, not all information is evidence-based. This has led to the dissemination of COVID-19 Myths and Conspiracies, mostly focusing on the origin, prevention, and treatment strategies of the virus. As such, the endorsing of such misconceptions may have detrimental effects on the public willingness to comply with preventive measures, promoting unfavorable attitudes towards vaccination and minimizing the importance of the pandemic. As a result, these beliefs, and their consequent behaviors may be considered a public health threat. To counter misinformation the governments must be transparent regarding the epidemiological situation, the repercussions of the virus, and the management of the pandemic. Additionally, public campaigns must focus on promoting health literacy among the population. Governments must push for more empirically based, accurate information, giving the public an opportunity to receive correct and complete information and not to be Myths and Conspiracies, while also preventing the spread of misinformation by reporting and penalizing those who do spread it with an intent to harm.



References


Allington, D., Duffy, B., Wessely, S., Dhavan, N., & Rubin, J. (2020). Health-protective behavior, social media usage, and conspiracy belief during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Psychological Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1017/S003329172000


Lazarus, J. V, Ratzan, S. C., Palayew, A., Gostin, L. O., Larson, H. J., Rabin, K., Kimball, S., & El-Mohandes, A. (2021). A global survey of potential acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nature Medicine, 27(2), 225–228. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-1124-9


Loomba, S., de Figueiredo, A., Piatek, S. J., de Graaf, K., & Larson, H. J. (2021). Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA. Nature Human Behaviour. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01056-1


Stein, R. A., Ometa, O., Pachtman Shetty, S., Katz, A., Popitiu, M. I., & Brotherton, R. (2021). Conspiracy theories in the era of COVID-19: A tale of two pandemics. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 75(2), e13778. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.13778

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