WSU researcher: Misinformation getting worse throughout the pandemic

SPOKANE, Wash. – Misinformation is putting some people at risk, some experts say. It’s getting harder for health experts to get people vaccinated because of that.

“We have to realize there’s not just one virus in our state, there’s two,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “One is the COVID virus, but the second is just as deadly, and that’s misinformation.”

Misinformation and constant changes to health guidance are confusing people. They don’t know what to believe or who to trust.

Social media has connected many people, but it can also be very dangerous. In times where people are in need of the right information for their own health during the pandemic, people are finding false information. It’s something health leaders are continuing to struggle with.

Misinformation can spread quickly during times with social media.

Washington State University (WSU) professor Erica Austin has been researching COVID-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic. She told 4 News Now she’s noticed a shift.

“It has gotten worse, and unfortunately, not only do we know that it’s gotten worse, but it’s gotten worse on purpose,” Austin said.

More people aren’t trusting the government, and that’s been on the decline for years according to some Gallup polls.

With the guidelines changing so often, it’s tough for people to keep up. It also confused some people as well as pushes them to not trust what public health officials are saying.

All those changes are happening in real time, and it’s creating a stir.

“We’re living in an interesting time right now where science is evolving right before our eyes and that’s the whole nature of science is that it’s constantly adapting and constantly evolving, which makes our jobs really exciting. But, it also makes it very confusing where everyone’s lives are impacted by this disease,” said Janessa Graves, a Washington State University professor who has a PhD in public health.

In her research, Austin found that people are creating disinformation, preying on those who may not know what’s true or not online.

“They are targeting communities, especially rural communities and especially communities of color,” she said, adding that people are preying on those who may not have easy access to know find factual information.

A study done by the Center for Countering Digital Hate says 12 people are behind disinformation and misinformation.

To make sure you don’t fall victim to misinformation, don’t just rely on social media, Austin said. When seeing something online, check to see if there are more sources. Make sure the website and sources are legitimate; if it’s a website you’ve never heard of, be skeptical.

If you’re still unsure about COVID-19 and the vaccine, contact your health care provider.

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