PREPRINT: Assessing the risks of “infodemics” in response to COVID-19 epidemics
Our society is built on a complex web of interdependencies whose effects become manifest during extraordinary events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, with shocks in one system propagating to the others to an exceptional extent. We analyzed more than 100 millions Twitter messages posted worldwide in 64 languages during the epidemic emergency due to SARS-CoV-2 and classified the reliability of news diffused. We found that waves of unreliable and low-quality information anticipate the epidemic ones, exposing entire countries to irrational social behavior and serious threats for public health. When the epidemics hit the same area, reliable information is quickly inoculated, like antibodies, and the system shifts focus towards certified informational sources. Contrary to mainstream beliefs, we show that human response to falsehood exhibits early-warning signals that might be mitigated with adequate communication strategies.