News archive - How to navigate covid news without spiraling

"As the pandemic changes so quickly, there’s a better way to think about getting and sharing the information you need" - Mia Sato wrote an article about the challenges of the quick-paced science communication around the covid-19 news cycle, published in the MIT Technology Review.


Information changes, and that’s okay

The scientific discovery process doesn’t move at the same pace as the rapid-fire, constantly churning news cycle. It also can’t keep up with people’s questions about how to survive the pandemic. Readers wonder: Should I wipe down my groceries? What’s the risk of taking the subway? Could I get long covid even if I’m vaccinated? Questions like this don’t always have easy or good answers, and experts I spoke to say communicating the unknowns to the public has been a challenge.

But because this is a novel disease, scientists and public health authorities are learning in real time—and more than a year and a half in, knowledge around key topics like immunity and long covid is still evolving. Scientists are often looking for answers at the same time the public is, but that’s not always clear to ordinary people, who may expect immediate and authoritative information.

“One of the things [public health authorities] weren’t necessarily doing that we need to see moving forward is actually communicating about the uncertainty,” says Renée DiResta, technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory. 

This lack of clarity—and sometimes the conflict—in public health messages can filter down to the press and create a vacuum where misleading or unverified information can fester and spread, DiResta says.

“That void can be filled by anyone with an opinion,” she adds.

All those conflicting messages, combined with the reality of slow scientific timelines, can exacerbate distrust. Instead of seeing changes in official guidance as signs that health authorities are responding to new data responsibly, it‘s easy for the public to believe that those authorities and the media had it wrong again—for example, when the CDC changed its mask guidelines. Politically motivated actors exploit that distrust. Sloppy headlines and misleading tweets by reputable news outlets, or journalists’ predictions that age poorly, can be repurposed into ”gotcha” memes that hyperpartisan influencers use to continue chipping away at trust in the media. 

Full article

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Entry created by Admin on September 24, 2021
Modified on September 24, 2021