By Dr. Zulfikar Bux
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Vanderbilt Medical Center
Kaieteur News – I have mentioned before, that this pandemic has exposed our weaknesses as a species and it worries me to see how primitive our thought processes are becoming in these “modern times”. Misinformation is now easier to spread and be accepted by masses leading to confusion and retaliation. From the inception, I saw how misinformation caused panic and led to poor decision making and it’s one of the main reasons why I have tried my best to gather data for myself and share with everyone in this weekly column. I recently came across a well written paper online titled “COVID-19 and the political economy of mass hysteria” which reinforced the point of the failures of society from mass hysteria during this pandemic. It highlighted how vulnerable we are to misinformation and how various sources have used this fact to their advantage and caused unnecessary confusion that has exploded during this pandemic. It is worth reading when you have the time.
What is mass hysteria
In mass hysteria, people of a group start to believe that they may be exposed to something dangerous, such as a virus or a poison. They believe a threat to be real because someone says so, or because it fits their experience. Due to the threatening delusion, a large group of people gets collectively very upset. In other words, a threat, whether real or imaginary, causes collective anxiety. Persons may mimic symptoms from the perceived threat or may react untowardly to it. All it takes is for someone to trigger a mass effect by making people believe in a delusion. The more popular the delusion, the likelier it will be believed by the masses.
What happened during the pandemic
At the start of the pandemic, the majority of the world was in fear and went into lockdown. Social interaction decreased and many resorted to electronic media for interaction and information. As soon as there was a new development, the trend was to share it all around so that others can be kept updated with what was happening all over. A new norm was starting where the electronic media had become the main source of interaction and data sharing. Many took advantage of this and the age of misinformation began. Persons were likelier to view or listen to information that looked or sounded “fantastic” whether it was true or not. Vaccines that were known as life savers were now killers, masks which were used for protection were now dangerous to have on and experts were now ignored for a social media post from a “trending’ non-medical expert.
How you can avoid becoming a victim of mass hysteria
The shortest answer is be careful with where and who you get your data from. Do not be the innocent reader of social media headlines as it will slowly wear you down and make a “believer” out of you. A story has two sides; get the facts from both sides and then make a decision for yourself instead of depending on others to do it for you. Getting facts can be difficult sometimes so consult with more than one trusted expert in the field before drawing a conclusion. Social media is often not the best medium to obtain accurate information from. And always remember, the popular decision is not always the right one.
How I tried to keep an independent thought process
Patient zero taught me a lot as it made me realise how unprepared we all were. I left work that day dejected but knowing that I had to be more prepared and I couldn’t depend on anyone or any agency. While we were all standing on the same ground, there were so many different views when it came to COVID-19. I have worked hard since to comb through the evidence to try to get the best information on COVID-19 as they came out. I can remember being unpopular many times as some of my decisions were not in line with that of altruistic agencies that many followed. The virus being airborne, mask wearing, early treatment with proven medications were facts that I gathered early and practiced but were unpopular at the time. I didn’t budge as I knew the science behind these facts and knew that there were no experts on COVID-19 that I can rely on.
It’s now close to two years and COVID-19 is still having its way with most of the world. But it is not because we do not know how to fight it; it is because we continue to allow misinformation to get the better of us.
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