Avoid misinformation on Covid-19 by trusting reliable sources: Experts

Experts advise social media users to be responsible, trust only reliable sources

When Mr Jeswant Singh, 68, wants the latest update on the Covid-19 pandemic, he scrolls through his mobile phone for WhatsApp messages from his friends.

He showed The Straits Times messages he had received with charts, videos and big words.

The information must be true because "all these messages and information are going viral already", said the retired maintenance officer, who has received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and is waiting for his third.

Professor May O. Lwin from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information noted: "The public, and even those studying the virus, have to navigate, decipher and respond to rapidly evolving sets of information - which may not always be consistent - on numerous platforms."

This has been going on for more than a year now. The Government had in April last year warned about fake messages and unfounded rumours circulating related to Covid-19.

Part of the problem has also been the gaps in information, given how much is still being discovered about Covid-19 as the pandemic unfolds.

One website fuelling the issue is Healing the Divide, started by Miss Iris Koh, 45, who said she did so to fill an information gap.

She said: "I didn't plan to be doing what I'm doing now. As I started speaking up, many people approached me because they too were worried and didn't know who to voice their concerns to."

She shares the information and stories on WhatsApp, Telegram, her YouTube channel and the website.

Another such group calls itself Truth Warriors, and it shares links to articles produced by several foreign doctors and overseas groups that have been discredited by organisations like the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On Oct 15, the Ministry of Health had to refute claims by Truth Warriors that anti-parasitic drug ivermectin is safe and effective for treating Covid-19.

Experts advise users of social media to be responsible with what they share, and check the context in which it was written as well as whether it is corroborated by other sources.

People should also look to reliable information from sources such as Singapore's Health Ministry, the World Health Organisation, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, US CDC website, and peer- reviewed journals.

Should confusion remain, the public should trust credible scientists and health authorities rather than subscribers to social media, experts whom ST previously spoke to have said.

Infectious disease expert Leong Hoe Nam, from the Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena, said: "The environment for an active discussion of vaccines has turned acidic.

"This isn't healthy for the population... The rising number is a test of our social cohesiveness and our collective strength. Do we fall as disparate individuals or stand as one united people?"