Together with colleagues on The Disinformation Project, Kate Hannah has been studying the vectors and volume of false stories that wrap around the Covid crisis in New Zealand. Here she explains what they’ve learned, and what we might do to tackle it.
s people, as communities, we connect to each other through story; it is through story that we make meaning, understand the past, and prepare for the future. Stories are the framework within which we express our selfhood, our relationships with others, and our values. “Stories are data with soul”: they help each of us develop what can be described as “narrative knowing”, where we understand who we are, and how we came to be that person. Stories contribute significantly to the ways in which we understand the world.
In the last months, we’ve all become accustomed to the difference between epidemics and pandemics; and the virus (SARS COV-19) and the illness (Covid-19). Now it’s time for us to become familiar with the infodemic. The World Health Organisation describes an infodemic as the “over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”.
This novel virus has only been transmitting throughout human communities since November 2019, and so the Covid-19 infodemic has been characterised by scientific uncertainty, debate, and a variety of public health responses. Researchers are rightly concerned about how people find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance as we move to stop the spread of the virus through individual and collective action, as we research cures and treatments, and as we develop vaccinations. We’re interested in the stories that are shaping people’s understanding of the virus.