Learn From the Rumors: International Comparison of COVID-19 Online Rumors Between China and the United Kingdom

Learn From the Rumors: International Comparison of COVID-19 Online Rumors Between China and the United Kingdom

Fei Liu (Research Institute of Smart Senior Care, School of Information, Renmin University of China, China) and Meiyun Zuo (Research Institute of Smart Senior Care, School of Information, Renmin University of China, China)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/JDM.2021070103
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Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing global pandemic, which has caused global social and economic disruption. In addition to physical illness, people have to endure the intrusion of rumors psychologically. Thus, it is critical to summarize the correlating infodemic, a significant part of COVID-19, to eventually defeat the epidemic. This article aims to mine the topic distribution and evolution patterns of online rumors by comparing and contrasting COVID-19 rumors from the two most popular rumor-refuting platforms—Jiaozhen in China and Full Fact in the United Kingdom (UK)—via a novel topic mining model, text clustering based on bidirectional encoder representations from transformers (BERT), and lifecycle theory. This comparison and contrast can enrich the research of infodemiology based on the spatio-temporal aspect, providing practical guidance for governments, rumor-refuting platforms, and individuals. The comparative study highlights the similarities and differences of online rumors about global public health emergencies across countries.
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Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge since World War Two. Meanwhile, it’s also an unprecedented socio-economic crisis, that people are tortured by rumors as well as suffering from the disease with the pandemic of misinformation through social media and mass media. Rothkopf (2003) firstly proposed the concept of “information epidemics,” also known as “infodemic,” exclaiming that rumors would affect the economic, politics, and national security of a given country and, eventually the world. With the continuous expansion of social networks, rumors have been rapidly amplified and transmitted worldwide through advanced information technologies. MIT Technology Review has referred to COVID-19 as the first true social-media infodemic, which has fueled panic, racism, and hope, adding enormous pressure to pandemic management (Karen & Tanya, 2020). Two examples of online rumors of COVID-19 appear in Table 1.

Table 1.
Examples of COVID-19 online rumors from China and the UK
SourceRumor ContentURL
ChinaEating effervescent vitamin C tablets can prevent COVID-19. (in Chinese)https://vp.fact.qq.com/article?id=27cb4d680688502e958f3338a062d313&ADTAG=xw-1.jz
The UKDettol antiseptic spray claims to kill coronavirus.https://fullfact.org/online/coronavirus-dettol/

An increasing number of public health and management scholars have begun to focus on research about rumors during global public health emergencies. Globally, Islam et al. (2020) identified 2,311 reports about the COVID-19 infodemic from 87 countries, demonstrating that coronavirus information was muddled by many unverified sources, affecting individuals and societal. For example, over 700 people died in Iran after ingesting toxic methanol, erroneously thinking it could cure COVID-19 (Iran’s Legal Medicine Organization, 2020).

As for strategies, some studies have mentioned that infodemic management approaches should be adapted to national contexts and practices. Meanwhile, international coordination and mutual learning are needed for effective control (Hou et al., 2020; Hua & Shaw, 2020; Tangcharoensathien et al., 2020). However, since almost all the countries such as China, Iran, and the UK, are all suffering and fighting the infodemic, what exactly are the differences and connections between rumors in different countries, and how can their characteristics and patterns influence or gain each other remain unknown.

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