Jevin West and Kate Starbird, both principal investigators at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, recently helped kick off a special UW Graduate School Public Lectures discussion series titled “Coexisting With COVID-19.” The May 7 discussion, “COVID-19 and the Truth,” was moderated by UW Communication Leadership co-director Hanson Hosein and focused on the infodemic that has emerged during the ongoing public health crisis. The discussion series will continue every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. PDT through June 4.
Starbird, an associate professor in UW’s Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, said that during the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, “when we saw misinformation, it was unintentional. It was people who were well meaning and trying to figure things out.” But Starbird said that as the crisis has continued, “what we’re seeing is a shift from unintentional misinformation to intentional misinformation as people who might want to exploit us for financial and political gain are entering these online information systems and trying to bend them in ways that benefit them. And we’re seeing COVID-19 start intersecting with Election 2020 and seeing the politicization of a lot of information and that can lead to the spread of misinformation as well.”
West, an associate professor at UW’s Information School, shared insights about public attitudes during the pandemic and their trust in institutions responding to the crisis. “If you look at recent surveys, even those in the past couple weeks, there’s pretty broad support across the political spectrum for at least some social distancing. … That means people are trusting to some degree these institutions that specialize in this, whether it’s the World Health Organization, or the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or our national or local governments,” West said. “What’s interesting about trust itself in this particular crisis … is that the trust in science has remained relatively high when, in fact, for many of the other institutions, there has been a pretty dramatic erosion of trust” in media and government.”