Expose those who spread misinformation

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

During a time of acute crisis, one is better advised to avoid people who are prone to fall for conspiracy theories. And by avoid I mean don’t listen to them. If there be an exchange of opinion, it would be unequal. They are not going to listen to you.

In times of acute crisis people tend to attribute significant events to a single, primary cause. That was the finding in a study done by Patrick Leman and Marco Cinnirella (2007), social psychologists at the Royal Holloway, University of London. People tend to believe that someone sinister and powerful is orchestrating everything.

The bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s, for example, was blamed on Jews. Today, COVID-19 is being blamed on Bill Gates. The man invented the most user-friendly software that millions of people around the world use. I can’t make a connection about the claim that he had to create a pandemic so he can inject a micro-hardware into everyone’s arm. For what?

Logical fallacies characterize people who fall for conspiracy theories. Who exactly are those prone to be swallowed by their own fallacies?

Mind you they cut across a wide spectrum of people, from the uneducated waifs to the Ph.D. degree holders --though one can find common threads. Studies show that political beliefs trigger conspiracy beliefs. Those with authoritarian and right-wing views, for example, have been shown to be more attracted to conspiracy theories. Those who feel marginalized are also prone to fall for conspiracy theories.

And it gets worse during an acute crisis. Social psychologists say that uncertainty during threatening events such as a pandemic may heighten personal distress.  “Conspiracy theories are sense-making devices that provide comprehensive and causal explanations for events, potentially easing distress,” said Goreis and Kothgassner (2020).

This is dangerous for many reasons. Conspiracy beliefs about COVID-19 have a direct impact on our behavior. For one, these have caused the spread of misinformation. Many of those who are faced with a black swan event like this pandemic are finding it hard to accept reality. A person in denial will clutch at anything that looks like the version of the truth that reassures.

Early in the pandemic, there were YouTube videos of doctors who argued that COVID-19 is just like the seasonal flu, that the crisis they deem unwarranted will soon pass. Of course, they were proven wrong. Now the same group of doctors are now planting doubts against the vaccine. Those who are drawn to conclusions that support their existing beliefs like to cite these doctors.

Compassion is needed at the time of crisis but at the time of acute crisis, all gloves should be off in fighting misinformation. People who spread misinformation and conspiracy theories must be exposed for what they really are – victims of their own personal prejudices; people who ignore evidence because either they must quickly deal with their personal distress or they feel left out in a world they find hard to understand.

Last Thursday, the University of the Philippines Manila College of Medicine issued a statement informing the public that COVID-19 vaccines are safe. This followed after a retired professor made sweeping statements questioning the safety of vaccines in a dzRH TV interview last Tuesday. The same retired professor has been claiming that the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin is a safer alternative for fighting COVID-19.

“Statements that allude to the dangers of vaccination, promotion of the use of alternative and repurposed medications that are still under study at the Philippine General Hospital are irresponsible when made public while claiming previous affiliation with the UP College of Medicine or the national university hospital, the Philippine General Hospital,” said the UP College of Medicine.

“As a community of scholars we appeal to the public to trust the official statements from the DOH, FDA, WHO, CDC and professional specialty or physician organizations like the Philippine Medical Association,” it added.

As of August 13, 2021, more than 4.6 billion doses of vaccines against COVID-19 have been administered across 183 countries, according to Bloomberg. “Enough doses have now been administered to fully vaccinate 30% of the global population—but the distribution has been lopsided,” reports Bloomberg.

There is much work to be done, both in ramping up global distribution of vaccines and in fighting misinformation surrounding vaccines and COVID-19.


  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with