What's an Infodemic?

What’s an Infodemic? How do you manage it?

One of the questions people ask me a lot is – how can I consume so much information and why doesn’t it appear to overwhelm me?

And because I keep getting asked, I decided to spend some time reflecting on how I can stand back (most of the time), and hopefully, communicate it here to help those struggling and feeling massively overwhelmed.

Now, in the process of explaining the process I go through, I got to about 5,000 words and realized, well that’s not going to help people manage an Infodemic!! So this is the shorter version and I might work on the longer one to publish in another format.

I’ll continue to try work out better ways to communicate these ideas – but it’s hard to explain things you just do.

What’s an Infodemic?

An Infodemic is when we experience an overload of information – which is usually false or unverified (non-peer-reviewed) information – and it’s a common reality during a crisis, which is why a pandemic ignites a Infodemic.

News and information ricochets around the world – in our media, on social media channels, on political podiums, and more. This massive torrent of conflicting information makes the challenge harder for us on the receiving end, because we’re too overwhelmed to know what’s true anymore!

Here’s the Wikipedia definition.

An Infodemic is a concept beyond information overload – which we’ve been dealing with for a couple of decades now. To give you context, we created more information in the first decade of this century than was created in ALL of human history, and since 2010, it’s doubled every two years.

In a pandemic, it’s a whole other explosion – which is why it’s called an Infodemic. Identified as a crisis back in the early days of COVID19, this NYT article will help you understand the challenge: W.H.O. Fights a Pandemic Besides Coronavirus: An ‘Infodemic’.

Add in the climate crisis, #BlackLivesMatter, politicians making headlines, economic chaos, and all of the other stuff going on, and well, we have an Infodemic on multiple fronts.

Which leaves us all asking: how do we see the wood for the trees?

It’s extremely challenging for most people to deal with an Infodemic. Our priority now, is understanding how to manage ourselves in an Infodemic. So here are my key tips.

Tip #1 find great information sources you trust

With so much information available, being focused in how you look for information helps to build trusted providers/resources over time.

Use your social media channels to search for and find great information you’re interested in. Follow news/media sites you value, companies too, and if you’re in business, follow the company social pages, especially on LinkedIn.

Follow thought leaders you respect, experts in the crisis too, track key hashtags, and of course, pay attention to your community – who are the people consistently sharing amazing content? Keep track of these great people in your network and engage with them regularly.

The quality of information you have access too, is based on the quality of what and who you follow on social media, as well as the people in your network.

For COVID19, the best email roundup I’ve found is Covid Daily. While more US focused, it’s worth subscribing to, if you want to keep up to date.

Tip #2 take emotions out, be dispassionate

One important way to get to the truth, is to take emotions out of the big stories as much as you can. If you can do this, you will be able to step back from the noise and view it dispassionately and logically.

If you can get yourself to a dispassionate position, it means you can read opposing opinions without getting triggered by strong emotions. I‘ve always believed it’s important to be able to view ‘both sides’ to ensure you remain objective and can continue to apply critical thinking, however, it’s challenging with so much crazy stuff going on.

As a professional communicator, I have to be committed to this, because if I am not open to all views, I can’t communicate effectively, or advise the professionals I work with on their communication styles either.

Work hard to take emotions out, especially before responding or sharing information, which is not easy and takes practice. Try and review all information objectively and dispassionately, and please, listen to the experts, not the politicians!

Tip #3 layer with the lens of history

Another strategy that helps to achieve neutrality is, read/watch all information with the lens of history over it. I’ve found that putting this lens on top helps to determine what really matters.

Ask yourself the question – what will be the story of this time when we look back?

An example of being too early in sharing information as fact, included people in our communities sharing data of common killers. People were making the argument more die of other diseases than COVID, concluding the world was overreacting.

Once a pandemic was called, it was a notice to the world to listen up and pay attention. It was the definitive point to listen to the experts, not your mates who failed science at school.

We were now facing an unfolding crisis and only time would provide the data to understand the severity of it. Applying a layer of history made this very clear.

Do you remember when this was shared in the early days and COVID was at the bottom? We’re nowhere near the end of this count. 

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Filter with the eyes of history. Ask if the news you’re hearing will be important in the future story of the pandemic? Or is it just one of many daily news pieces we are being bombarded with?

Tip #4 learn how to identify distractions (and not be distracted by them)

It’s critical we don’t allow ourselves to get caught up in every piece of information doing the rounds. We need to focus on what’s important, because, there is a LOT of distraction from the core truth of today.

When you start to identify distractions, you start to understand how intentional it is. Whether it’s governments, extreme groups, saboteurs or bots – there’s a lot going on. Science is a distraction in the middle of a pandemic too – not because it’s wrong, but because it’s too slow to feed our need for information NOW.

Scientific research takes time. It’s not a sound bite, it’s not a headline, and it’s not click bait. The processes for verifying research is arduous, but it’s to ensure we get accurate data. Better to wait than act prematurely.

An easy action we can all take is: don’t believe or share any research until it is peer reviewed or verified. Share powerful information that will help your community learn and focus on what matters. Ignore nonsense, even from your friends – just move past it. No one wins an argument on social media, and a made up mind is a hard thing to un-make. Let that go and start believing in your ability to change the world and that your individual contribution really does matter.

Tip #5 stepping back reveals the patterns

When you can step back from the Infodemic, you can see the patterns in information, and you get good at knowing what’s important and what’s not. It’s the same for conspiracy theories.

Stepping back and remembering your history helps too. If you go at this big picture, you can see the undercurrents at play, especially the deep divisions it creates. We’ve had this level of division consistently throughout human history, and we know where it can lead.

You don’t need to go far back in history to see when things got out of control, leading to an elevation in global violence – world wars, separation, walls, hatred of others, fear, terrorism, genocide, mass people movement, and more.

Stand back. See the patterns. Understand the divisions. When you feel an overwhelming hatred towards a group or idea, ask yourself why? Who sowed that seed? Who is benefiting? Is your life better or worse – and be really honest with that answer? Are you building more walls – physically or metaphorically?

And please, it’s not social media’s fault either. Social media is the channel today, but it’s not because of social media this is happening. It’s always happened.

If you’re in business, read this blog by Sarah Walker-Smith, Chief Executive of Shakespeare Martineau – The New Abnormal – an open letter to business leaders

Tip #6 let’s get back in balance

What we’re facing is a world out of balance. Think Ying and Yang, or the classic opposites and in my interpretation of this idea, we need both to be in balance.

Regardless of how you identify, we have both sides within. We can’t get rid of the ying, and we can’t get rid of the yang – because to achieve balance, we need both. Just this thinking helps me to step back from the news. Because I know both must exist, even if I find the negative side painful.

The division within humanity has been rising for years now. We don’t trust anyone, everything is politicised, we have extreme views on each side of hot issues, families don’t speak to each other, confusion reigns everywhere and well, it’s a crazy and exhausting time for anyone paying attention.

I know everything seems impossible, but together, WE CAN come together. Believe it. Share the future you want. Envision it. Recruit your community into your vision too. I urge everyone to share the positive stuff. Speak up for what you want to see in the world. Share the beauty, share the opportunity, share the craziness but position it in a way that is helpful versus pulling people down. Don’t get baited into a fight. It hurts you. Let it go!!

Tip #7 let fear go

Fear was present before, but during a pandemic it’s even more intense and can be overwhelming. I get it, fear overwhelms me sometimes too, but I know that if I allow myself to be dragged down into fear, then I will also be in an irrational state raging at the world. Fear gets us all nowhere.

It completely consumes and it’s overwhelming whole societies right now. Just as we should never individually make decisions from a place of fear, we shouldn’t make them globally while in a state of fear either.

Fear gnaws away at you and twists you into something you’re not, and that’s where it does the most damage.

Identify if you are driven by fear right now? Are you? And if so, can you address it and let it go? Can you see the hope of this time? A clean slate to create our world anew? Can you let fear go and become a person committed to creating a better future? A future of hope? This is what helps me stay out of fear – hope!

Tip #8 honour the feelings in your communities

To not be overwhelmed, step back and look for the rhythms of the news. Observe the goings on. Watch the global conversation. Read the anger, but read the love, understand where people are. Don’t react, but try instead to understand: why are they feeling that way?

Because if we don’t understand why they feel that way, how can we help? How can we change anything?

This is another critical quality we must bring to the fore: we need to honour the legitimacy of how others are feeling, even if we don’t feel it or understand it ourselves. By not honouring it, we exacerbate the division between us. Yes we have a role to play in the division too.

Stop shouting and start celebrating. Share words of love, not words of fear or anger. Be empathetic to those in fear and understand where they are. Then let your words be balms to help them address their fears, so they can escape that crippling state of mind.

Of course we need permission for occasional indiscretions, because we all have our off days. No one is perfect, so be kind to yourself.

Tip #9 get in the game

A huge challenge an Infodemic creates is news fatigue. I understand why – there’s a lot of ugliness in the world – but we cannot disengage right now, especially young people. If you want to create a better future for all, we need all the great people in the world engaged and sharing on these platforms.

If we don’t step up, then noise and negativity is all we appear to have. The challenge is the negative characters continue to have a far larger impact on social media with their views versus their actual physical numbers. Why let them dominate the global conversation?

Stay in the fight. Don’t let the angry, the hateful, the dividers, or the trolls continue to have an outsized presence on social media. Just being present to counter this is why I won’t let the Infodemic overwhelm me. I see it as my duty. Let’s flood social channels with goodness and powerful fact-based information.

We have no time to lose

To give you a sense of the crisis’ we are facing, beyond COVID19, here’s a few alarming recent headlines:

World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert

Carbon emission from permafrost soils underestimated by 14%

Arctic Ocean acidification worse than previously expected

Land purchases by private companies accelerate tropical deforestation, data shows

‘Nowhere to hide’: South Pole warms up with climate change a factor

‘People will die within months’: Lebanon heads for famine as pandemic accelerates hunger

CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere nearing levels of 15m years ago

Global Agribusiness is Devouring the World’s Last Forests. We Need Local Food Systems, Now.

Tip #10 help your community

One way we can contribute in a crisis like a pandemic and an Infodemic, is to share knowledge.

Thoughtful, insightful, impactful, peer-reviewed, verified information to help inform our global communities, with the goal of reaching those not getting access to the best information from their government or preferred media sources.

If the leaders or media in any country aren’t doing the job they need to do right now, we can help our fellow humans by getting the right information out there. I see this as our obligation, to help share informed information when there are knowledge gaps.

Commit to being a change agent and an educator. Raise your voice. Educate your communities. Understand the power of social leadership to drive change around the world. Open up a huge heart full of empathy, and then be present, stand witness, and contribute a beautiful vision for our collective future.

I mean, how many people in America still think COVID19 is a hoax? That’s a massive information failing in the middle of a pandemic: A patient in their 30s has reportedly died after attending a ‘COVID party’ in Texas and thinking coronavirus was a ‘hoax’.

This is one reason I’m doing my Weekend Reads. Sharing knowledge that I’ve read and verified, to help my community understand the important global issues.

Tip #11 join the social leadership movement

Beyond the COVID19 pandemic, if you want a better world on the other end of this crisis, then please, participate in a really beautiful and positive way, in your physical life and on social media. Believe me or don’t, just try it. It never hurts to share love with the world, right?

Let’s show our children that the world is about kindness and love. I know it sounds crazy to some, but isn’t that the world you’d rather be in?

Step back, be objective, look for the big picture, understand the rhythms and distractions, and then play your part as a messenger for a beautiful future, so we can get the world back in balance and focused on the big issues we need to overcome, together.

Tip #12 all of the above comes with a warning

When you work really hard to understand and find truth within an Infodemic, you have to pay attention to your energy levels. It is exhausting navigating an Infodemic (trust me!!) and you will hit your limit sometimes. Burn-out is a real possibility, so be kind to yourself.

All you can do is pay attention and honour it when it strikes. I’ve recently had a two-week burn out, combined with an abscess in my tooth (that wasn’t fun!) and I had to stop, allow myself to sleep more, rest, lower expectations on myself, and more.

While I can never fully disengage, I did step back a bit and paid more attention to what was triggering me. Dispassion really helps during these times!

Understand that burn out can strike even the most voracious news and information gatherer, because it takes an enormous amount of energy to do this – even if it is a passion.

Rest, relax, recoup and come back when you’re ready. It’s so important to honour this need, but also to not let it defeat you.

Well there you go, let me know if this helps you deal with the Infodemic? I’ll keep digging for insight if it doesn’t hit the mark.

Please join me

It’s time to be brave, bold and courageous, as well as to speak up for the beautiful world you envision that we can create together. In 2020, I believe we all owe it to our communities to get involved, and this blog is written to help you navigate the Infodemic, which will hopefully take away a barrier to participation.

Don’t let it overwhelm you, because your words matter, and your contribution matters. Let’s raise our voices for the future we want.

Anything you would add to this?

Cheers

Andrea

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