Despite the government plea to get credible information about COVID-19 from the National Emergency Committee and the Ministry of Health, misinformation is still prevalent within the community especially on social media particularly on Facebook.
Within the past few months, there have been several instances where people have spread false rumors about the coronavirus inciting reactions from people.
One instance is a Facebook post by the username Reed Evans who suggested that Guam’s quarantine protocols are not strict and that one of the repatriated citizens tested positive for COVID-19. This brought attention to many concerned citizens who wished to know where the information came from with Reed Evans replying to none of them.
Many safety measures were put into place to ensure the safety of the repatriated citizens as well as citizens residing in Palau and it includes strict quarantine for 14 days and testing negative for COVID-19 otherwise the repatriated citizens would not be able to get on the plane.
All 58 repatriated citizens arrived in Palau at June 11th and 12th indicating that all passengers have tested negative for the virus according to the Ministry of Health. Reed Evan’s profile has been deactivated.
Shortly after, rumors circulated again about how 4 students who escaped quarantine and went driving around town. Then the National Emergency Committee took action to address these rumors.
In their statement, they clarified to the public that the rumors circulating around social media are false. It went on to say that all the repatriated citizens are under 24-hour monitoring and have not left their room.
The constant misinformation and rumors affects other people especially the repatriated citizens and those that are in charge of watching over them.
“When I found out about them, I was shocked. It definitely felt unfair to us, to the security and people watching over us, and to the residents of Palau. For almost four weeks, we have been doing our best to follow the rules, and it wasn’t easy. This probably the longest time I have been isolated in my entire life. The security and other workers here are doing their best, too, to make sure we stay in our rooms, so those rumors would make people think they aren’t doing their job right. But they are! And lastly, it just makes residents unnecessarily angry at us and scared for their lives.” Stated a repatriated female citizen from the University of Guam.
She went on to say that “It’s funny, though, how some of the rumors don’t even make sense but also sad how some people will just believe anything they hear.”
In their attempt to quell the rumors from circulating once and for all, the National Emergency Committee stated that “starting or spreading rumors concerning specific individuals or businesses that may have been visited by certain individuals could constitute defamation and entitle the offended party to monetary damages under the law.”
Other solutions for the misinformation on social media regarding COVID-19 is simply to fact check or flag posts regarding coronavirus that do not have a reliable source to back up their claim.
During the PACMAS (Pacific Media Assistance Scheme) workshop reporters from the Pacific Region mentioned that there is a great commitment in flagging posts in social media that contain misinformation regarding COVID-19. Social media platforms such as Facebook or YouTube have been pro-active in dealing with the misinformation surrounding COVID-19 by removing the inaccurate posts.
Through the assistance of PACMAS, it has given ideas as to how Palau can address misinformation within the community.
(Telbakes Yano’s article was made possible through the support of a grant from PACMAS and Palau Media’s Reporting on COVID-19 workshop. Pacmas is funded by Australian Aid)