The coronavirus crisis has reminded us of the power of information flows — and their unprecedented consequences. A battle to control the narrative about the origin of the virus, as well as the best way to curb it, continues. It is being fought online and puts technology platforms, and their methods of handling viral disinformation, in positions of unmatched power. The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called it an “infodemic”.
“Fake news spreads faster and more easily than the virus, and it is just as dangerous,” he said in mid-February. Democratic governments have responded to the infodemic differently. US President Donald Trump contributes to the problem, repeating unverified claims and dismissing experts. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte each included warnings about disinformation in addresses to their nations.