‘Infodemia’: understand new term from the Portuguese language dictionary

The Brazilian Academy of Letters (ABL) has just added more than a thousand new words to the Portuguese language dictionary. This includes one that draws a lot of attention because it is directly related to the information “epidemic” we are currently experiencing: the so-called infodemic.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infodemia is characterized by an excessive increase in the volume of information related to a particular subject. These news (both false and true) end up making the simple task of getting informed and finding reliable sources and guidance difficult when needed.

What is infodemia?

Although the term was recently added to the Orthographic Vocabulary of the Portuguese Language (Volp), the phenomenon of infodemia did not arise exactly because of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic, but it gained its own name during the health crisis. The word refers to an excess of shared news, some true and some not.

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At specific times, such as during the current pandemic, the exponential multiplication of this news ends up leading to false rumors and misinformation. In the information age, this phenomenon gains even more strength due to social networks and media, and it usually spreads quickly, as if it were a virus.

According to a booklet recently published by the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the amount of information related to covid-19 in just 30 days is enormous:

  • 361 million videos are uploaded to YouTube with the rating “COVID-19” or “COVID 19”
  • 500 million tweets contain the terms coronavirus, coronavirus, covid-19, covid19, covid_19 or pandemic (pandemic)

The document also states that more than 19,000 articles have been published on Google’s academic platform, Google Scholar, since the pandemic began. Therefore, the moment we live in defines very well what characterizes an infodemia, which brings misinformation as a serious consequence.

Along with the term infodemia, other words related to the disease were added to the official vocabulary, such as the disease name itself, covid-19, and telemedicine. There are also some foreign words, such as lockdown (confinement) and home office (working from home).

How does infodemia contribute to misinformation?

Disinformation is characterized by false or inaccurate information. The intention of those who produce or share this type of news may not even be deceiving, but this ends up being the inevitable result.

In the context of the current pandemic, misinformation can profoundly impact many aspects of life, including people’s physical and emotional health. The search for news about covid-19 has increased by about 70% in recent months, which further exacerbates this problem.

Infodemic facilitates the emergence of many false and misleading news. Most of them are based on conspiracy theories, while others add elements to favor a type of discourse.

A lot of false information that circulated in recent months was related to covid-19: how the virus originated, types of treatment and what is the transmission mechanism were just some aspects dealt with by the lying or inaccurate news that put people’s lives at risk.

How to fight infodemia?

As disinformation is based on false news, avoiding it is one of the most efficient methods for dealing with infodemia. Also, reporting harmful rumors on social media is another way to help stop the spread of this content.

If you come across questionable news, make sure that information makes sense (even if it comes from a source you think is safe). Also confirm whether the note has been shared previously or by others. If you can’t verify the accuracy of a piece of news, the best thing is not to share it.

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