Olga G. Yeritsidou, B.A., M.A.
Tanya Maria Geritsidou, B.A., M.A.
The, unprecedented for our century, Covid-19 pandemic brought with it the familiar pandemic of overinformation and misinformation, as would be expected. From conspirancy theories and claims on how the SARS-COV-2 virus emerged to overinformation on what to do to protect ourselves, which measures are or aren’t sufficient, and so on, data is overflowing. Conflicting information (often presented as the absolute truth), emotionally charged posts in social media, continuous announcements of measures and consequent criticism would be enough to drive the average citizen mad. Especially when the risk is so great: we are being threatened with great impacts on our health or even our life as well as our general financial state and safety.
It is, however, quite simple to navigate this stormy sea of conflicting and often highly dramatic information with safety and scientificity even if we are not scientists. The only thing we need to do is to follow the rules and principles below:
- Serious information is only information that carries responsibility
Every information that is given officially while assuming full and personal responsibility by whoever is the source has a credible percentage of true responsibility: that is, it is possible and even probable that in case of error, even more so in case of lying/distorting the truth/ misinformation, for legal action to be taken and financial repercussions to ensue. The greater this legal responsibility, this liability, the more likely for the source that is disseminating the information to have taken care not to transmit fake news that might cost the source anything up to seven digits. Therefore, we must take into account how responsible this source will be for what it is disseminating as one of the factors for credibility.
- We very meticulously look for turns of phrase that renounce responsibility
Exactly because the first principle holds, many sources that are reputable or official try to self-protect and preempt any lawsuits or other legal action in case of fake news, libel or misinformation by including phrases designed to denounce responsibility and avoid it. These phrases may be noticeable or camouflaged within the text or audio of the source. Phrases such as “alleges that”, “according to”, “as it seems”, etc, virtually grant the source the capacity to claim, should the information prove false, that it is not liable for its dissemination and not its fault, because it didn’t claim something absolutely but rather, as a possibility or someone else’s allegations or hearsay. The source will also claim that such a thing was and remains obvious to any intelligent consumer of its content and so it’s the consumer that has responsibility to act accordingly. In such cases, therefore, we look up the source of the source- down to the one which will be liable.
- We check on the interest and risk every source takes
We must keep in mind that all official sources aren’t equally credible. Sources that are, for example, dependent on governments may be less reliable when it comes to content on politics and propaganda but more reliable when the information is with regards to public health and issues about life. We judge this by how protected they are from responsibility. This includes the source and the governments on one hand, and how scientifically or objectively arguably reprehensible this information is on an international level. A second criterion is how many times in the past this source has been caught lying or disseminating falsities in the category in which the news in question falls.
- We pay a lot of attention to common sense, the reported facts and other similar instances historically to assess whether the current situation is dealt with similarly and why/why not
The liability of every source aside, we must apply common sense and evaluate whether what we are being told ‘makes sense’ objectively (and not according to what we would like the case to be). We can evaluate this in two ways: primarily, we look into whether historically or based on common practice what we are being said confirms what has already been tested and proven, or is in the same trajectory. If it isn’t, we must see why, because there’s a significant difference if the approach differs due to, for example, new technologies or due to unilaterally and without objective substantiation some other approach is being imposed. Additionally, we look into whether the explanation is based on widely and internationally acceptable scientific evidence. And when we speak of scientific evidence, we refer to hard sciences and the social sciences such as sociology and psychology only. The reason we don’t include financial and law sciences is because legislation and juris prudence as well as economic theories can be fully controlled by the forces of distortion called social stratification, political/governmental assertion and ideological ‘trend’.
- If we are recipients of conflicting information for which we cannot affirm nor refute either using objective facts or evidence, we either reject both or don’t take a stance if we don’t absolutely have to
There will be occasions where we will be given information about something without us being able, according to the principles already presented, to evaluate if it is reliable or not. Sometimes, we may even be given conflicting information on the exact same thing which we won’t be able to substantiate. In these cases it is very tempting to choose as reliable the piece of information that agrees with our own beliefs/ political orientation/ ideology/ imagination/ personality/ friends/ etc. But it will be a mistake if we do that, even if later substantiation comes about that will make it reliable. That is because this possible future substantiation is just our luck in a game of Russian roulette: it could, that is, just as easily be substantiating the opposing piece of information. That means, therefore, that if we simply choose to consider as reliable before substantiation any opinion or approach, we will have taught ourselves that we can arbitrarily believe what ‘sounds’ more logical, but without logical proof. So next time we do it, we might easily find ourselves believing something false.
What we must do in such cases is to simply say “I don’t know”. We should say, that is, that “without proper substantiation I can’t believe any side and I’m going to wait for proper evidence to take a side.”
Having therefore talked about all these principles, how do we conduct ourselves on the issue of the coronavirus?
- We follow the principles of self protection (especially their logic) from the virus as they have been announced from the centers of world health. We continue to monitor their announcements for the while we’re being told that due to the virus being new, new data are constantly being added.
- We evaluate how much the protection measures of the state or the country are sufficient only by basing the evaluation on the evidence given by the world health centers on how the virus spreads. That means that if the government doesn’t abide by those measures in such a way that the virus spread is curbed, we have to recognize that the measures are insufficient, regardless of the excuse as to why they are so.
- Regarding the information on how the virus was created or how it emerged, we must seek objective proof with regards to every claim. If those don’t exist, then we shouldn’t accept any. We also need to evaluate whether this information concerns our own health protection at this time, and whether we should occupy ourselves with these theories.
- Regarding the information on active substances that could fight the virus, we still must wait for the final, reliable conclusions from the centers of world health and not various claims or research questions that are presented on mass media and elsewhere.
- Regarding the self-protection measures of masks and gloves, we must rely on consistent evidence over time from reliable sources of information and learn how to use them correctly, what their parameters are as well as their types so that we can use what we need to, how we need to and when we need to.
- From the moment we have received all information with proper substantiation as described, we don’t occupy ourselves further with the issue, except when new substantiation of the same level and quality comes about.
In this manner, we primarily preserve our mental and emotional calmness and secondarily we maintain the control we need in order not to be swayed by every kind of deft grifter looking to make a profit or some kind of career on the back of Humanity dealing with urgent matters and the agony that goes with that.