Charlotte Petri Gornitzka
ALL around the world, people are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families from coronavirus. Sound preparation, based on scientific evidence, is what is needed at this time.
However, while many people are sharing information about the virus and how to protect against it, only some of that information is useful or reliable. Misinformation during times of a health crisis can spread paranoia, fear, and stigmatisation. It can also result in people being left unprotected or more vulnerable to the virus.
For example, a recent erroneous online message circulating in several languages around the world and purporting to be a Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) communication appears to indicate, among other things, that avoiding ice cream and other cold foods can help prevent the onset of the disease. This is, of course, wholly untrue.
To the creators of such falsehoods, we offer a simple message: Stop! Sharing inaccurate information and attempting to imbue it with authority by misappropriating the names of those in a position of trust is dangerous and wrong.
To members of the public, we ask that you seek accurate information about how to keep yourself and your family safe from verified sources, such as Unicef or World Health Organisation, government health officials and trusted healthcare professionals; and that you refrain from sharing information from untrustworthy or unverified sources.
It can be difficult in today’s information-rich society to know exactly where to go for knowledge about how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. But it is critical that we remain as diligent about the accuracy of the information we share as we are about every other precaution we take to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Unicef is actively taking steps to provide accurate information about the virus by working with the World Health Organisation, government authorities and with online partners like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok to make sure that accurate information and advice is available, as well as taking steps to inform the public when inaccurate information emerges.
Gornitzka is the Unicef deputy executive director for partnerships.