Experts: misinformation around COVID-19 has an emotionally intuitive basis

The main sources of disinformation are Russia and China, according to American analysts
Against the background of the fight against the coronavirus, there is also a fight against the misinformation associated with it. The main sources of the latter are Russia and China, according to American experts who discussed this topic at the Woodrow Wilson think tank..
SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus, the origin and behavior of which the scientific community has just begun to study. The lack of information, according to experts, is a fertile ground for manipulation and misinformation not only in the world, but also in the United States. So, in mid-March, the New York prosecutor demanded that the well-known right-wing author Alex Jones, an adherent of conspiracy theories who has repeatedly disseminated misinformation, stop advertising their products that allegedly treat coronavirus..
Nina Jenkowitz, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, notes that, as in previous similar campaigns, false information is driven by emotion. Now, she says, there is no shortage of them, and much of the misinformation is emotionally intuitive. This is how Russian disinformation has worked in the United States over the past 10-15 years, she adds..
«Take a look at the Mueller report, as well as all the ads and social media posts that were made during the 2016 election. They were all based on these very emotional issues. It’s about things that are very real to people. And that is what attracts them and allows them to be manipulated. Therefore, I am in favor of informational distancing. My advice: if you are reading something that seems too good, which could be true, or you feel that your emotions are growing, you are probably being manipulated and it is time to turn off this device and leave.», – the expert emphasizes.

She adds that Russia is using contradictions between the US and the EU, as well as contradictions within countries, to exacerbate the split, and this is not only about creating chaos. At the same time, the audience for this propaganda, notes Nina Jenkowitz, – not only Europeans and Americans, but also the Russians themselves.
«Putin, like any other leader, is struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis. The worse the United States and Western Europe look, not coping with the pandemic, the better it looks in Russia. Therefore, we saw the delivery of medical care not only to Italy, but also the assistance that was delivered to the United States. This is a PR victory for him. As you know, the Russian public health system faces many problems similar to those we face: lack of personal protective equipment and so on. And he can say, “You know, the Americans, the Europeans, are not doing very well with this either. At least I can provide you Russians with these basic services. And that’s why you have to settle for this authoritarian regime that I have been building for the past 20 years.”», – Nina Jenkowitz thinks.
China is a unique example of disinformation because it not only produces it, but itself is targeted, says Ray Zhong. – Kissinger Institute expert.
«Disinformation in China begins at the domestic level: there is state media, there is an official propaganda bureau, there is a cyberspace administration. They are the ones who choose, control and shape the narrative. Example – Dr. Li Wen, who first reported the coronavirus, contracted it and died. Not long ago, Lee was officially named a martyr. The CCP started talking about him as a hero. A rise in more aggressive censorship has also been seen. Efforts are being made to remove social media accounts, limiting users’ ability to post or discuss an issue. China has also become a target of disinformation. For example, a photograph of a woman from Southeast Asia who ate a dish of bats was actively disseminated. Then there was information that the virus originated in the so-called wet market. This led to an increase in xenophobia in the US and Europe.», – noted Rei Zhong.
Brazilians also faced a stream of misinformation, experts say.
«The Brazilian President is playing an active role in creating and spreading misinformation about public health advice at this time. He became one of the most famous skeptics. He downplays the severity of the illness, calling it a little cold and hysteria. He accuses the press of exaggerating the severity of the health crisis. Bolsonaro actively discouraged social distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions, effectively undermining the advice of his own health minister. As a result, the Brazilians are faced with conflicting information, and this is not encouraging, as people want to see their government as a source of advice and response to combat the spread of coronavirus.», – tells Anja Prusa from the Brazilian Institute.

Emotion Regulation and Grounding in the Midst of COVID-19

Experts emphasize the important role of the work of journalists in the fight against disinformation. Thorough fact-checking and unbiased reporting take on special importance during pandemic days.

  • Alexander Yanevsky

    Journalist. Graduated Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Worked on the channel «1 + 1» and «Channel 5». On «Voice of America» since 2014. Was one of two correspondents «Voices of America», covering the Russian presidential elections in 2018 from Moscow. He pays attention to the topic of US-Ukrainian and US-Russian relations. Actively covered the case of Paul Manafort and Maria Butina.
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Experts: misinformation around COVID-19 has an emotionally intuitive basis

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