Amid Hawaii’s COVID surge, lawmakers and public health experts struggle to fight misinformation

“I do think that misinformation has played a big part of the crisis we’re in right now in our community,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole.
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 9:35 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 10:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public health experts and government officials say they’re being hobbled in their efforts to fight the spread of COVID by those spreading misinformation.

“I do think that misinformation has played a big part of the crisis we’re in right now in our community,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, a member of the Senate’s Special Committee on COVID-19.

Keohokalole said the state is trying to connect more with skeptics to win the public’s trust.

But on social media, that appears to be a monumental task.

One Instagram page known for posting funny Hawaii videos now has almost all anti-vaccine messages. Its creator said it’s because he doesn’t trust the government.

Neither does the man who recently confronted the lieutenant governor, claiming the state is lying about COVID statistics. His Instagram page has nearly 3,500 followers, even though he was accused of inflating his medical credentials.

“Right now in a lot of social media algorithms, you’re not exposed to all sides of the information,” said University of Hawaii communicology Professor Amy Hubbard.

She said that often, social media leads down a one-sided rabbit hole.

“I click on something that, oh, I’m interested in, or I’m not sure, or that sounds provocative, that sounds kinda juicy, and I click on it — what will happen then is that we are more likely to information like that,” said Hubbard.

Why some people believe their friends more than doctors was the subject of a major World Health Organization study. The survey found that more than a third of social media users were apathetic to false information, instead of challenging it.

On the mainland, the 13 million followers of podcaster Joe Rogan found out that he’s now infected and taking the horse worm medicine ivermectin, which the CDC has warned against.

In San Diego, one lawmaker is trying to get COVID misinformation declared as a public health crisis.

“We have to say what we have an obligation to say, which is these statements are dangerous, they are untrue, and they will hurt your health,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

Hubbard said fear and anxiety are also playing roles in the spread of misinformation.

But ultimately, the message can spread more quickly because the recipient trusts the source, such a family member or friend.

“We might be thinking it’s truthful and we want you to believe it too and that’s why we’re sharing it. And now it’s coming from a source who we might like,” she said.

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