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How to stop the spread of coronavirus misinformation

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Much misinformation online has made the rounds on cures and prevention of the coronavirus that have caused over 100,000 deaths in the world. Despite much caution by governments and mainstream media on fake news, some have taken to drinking colloidal silver (silver particles in liquid) to ingesting cocaine and bleach-like solutions to cure themselves of Covid 19. A couple in Phoenix took chloroquine phosphate to self-medicate for the coronavirus after President Donald Trump addressed the U.S saying the drug Chloroquine, used to treat malaria and lupus could be a cure. The chloroquine phosphate taken by the couple is an additive used commonly to clean fish tanks at aquariums and not the said medication by Trump. The man died while his wife was sent to critical care. Why do people spread and believe in misinformation? Can mindfulness stop the spread of coronavirus misinformation?

In our world of information overload, we can be discouraged from applying our critical thinking skills by purveyors of fake news using a few simple tricks. One of the tricks to make misinformation look real is placing an image alongside a statement. An image helps us visualise the general scenario along with the headlines and what we see in our minds becomes a kind of truth. Another trick used is the simple repetition of a statement on a newsfeed. This creates a feeling of familiarity and suggests to our mind that it is true. This was a trick peddled by propagandists and misinformation peddlers. Social media does not help stop spread fake news. People share news to get engagement. The more provocative or mind-boggling the information, the more it gets shared. Social media does not incentivize the truth. Then, there is cognitive miserliness. Consider this question:

Emily’s father has three daughters, The first two are named April and May. What’s the name of the third daughter?

If you answered June, this is the response most people who are overridden by their reflexive responses use. The answer is of course Emily. This “cognitive reflection test” is no so much a test of raw intelligence as a test of someone’s tendency to employ their intelligence by thinking things through a deliberative and analytical fashion, rather than lazily going along smoothly with our thoughts.

In order to exercise our critical thinking, it is necessary to stop the train of habitual thoughts running constantly in our age of information overload. To stop the spread of coronavirus misinformation require us to develop skills to stop our connected beads of thoughts.

Mindfulness has been shown to help us from making irrational decisions by self-regulating our emotions. Regular meditation by bringing the mind to the present moment helps to stop running thoughts in order to help mindfulness arise. Mindfulness is an introspection of what is happening in our body, feelings, and mind before we take action. Learning to pause is getting more crucial in changing our tendencies to spread misinformation which could cause more harm than what is already happening with the coronavirus.

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