As the new coronavirus spreads across the world, so too have false rumors and misinformation — primarily via the internet.
Among them are that a passenger with a fever who arrived by plane from Wuhan in China escaped quarantine authorities at Kansai International Airport, and that the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games will be cancelled. There have also been several cases where information has popped up describing people having become infected in areas where no known cases were recorded.
Since the virus is a new infectious disease, many things about it are still unknown, such as its infectivity and dangers. Because so much about the virus is unclear, the desire to gather as much information as possible is also stronger.
But unfounded rumors and misinformation cause societal anxiety and chaos.
To prevent such a state of affairs, it is essential that public and specialized agencies deliver correct information to the people frequently. The government must take care to protect individuals’ privacy while as swiftly as possible disclosing facts that have become evident.
In the cases of the false rumors about Kansai International Airport and the Tokyo Summer Games, the involved parties officially denied them. If misinformation is being disseminated, then it is important to issue correct information immediately.
One U.S. IT firm has begun efforts to stop the spread of misinformation regarding the new coronavirus. It is taking measures such as confirming whether a piece of information is true or not, and if it isn’t, preventing it from showing up online.
What is terrifying is that propagating false reports can lead to discrimination and prejudice, and in the past rumors about infectious diseases have fostered such views against patients. Additionally, when the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station broke out in March 2011 following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunamis, survivors became targets for prejudice.
Now with the new virus, posts defaming Chinese people are showing up on the internet. In North America and Europe, discriminatory language and behavior toward Asian people — including Japanese people — is said to have become an issue.
To prevent the further spread of the virus, certain restrictions have been placed on those infected with it, as well as on those who cannot be ruled out as infected. The government must provide the public with accurate information to prevent such people from becoming targets for prejudice.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, people have been seeking advice over discrimination against family members of hospital workers treating those infected with the new coronavirus. This, too, is a challenge that must be confronted head-on.
With the proliferation of social media, we live in a time when anyone can easily distribute information. What one posts without much consideration can lead to the spread of false rumors. We must be careful.
It is when anxiety levels are high in society that we are most required to assess information level-headedly.