As the COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country and the world, misinformation surrounding the coronavirus is also spreading at an alarming rate.
In a video series TIME is producing with Katie Couric, Dr. Emily Vraga, an Associate Professor of Health Communication at the University of Minnesota, says that it’s easy to see why people are turning to unproven theories about the coronavirus.
“Conspiracy theories fill in blanks that science can’t right now that science doesn’t have satisfying answers for,” Dr. Vraga says. “People are frightened and alone. Misinformation gives them the illusion of control.”
Dr. Vraga says that conspiracy theories are very dangerous right now because they offer false hope that can put people at risk. She points to social media as being a source for much of the misinformation that goes around, adding that there are studies that show that misinformation spread faster than accurate stories because it “has all these characteristics that call to our attention and encourage us to share it.”
As the coronavirus has become more politicized, people are going to start seeing the information through a political lens rather than objectively, according to Dr. Vraga.
“When it comes to public health crises, I think that news organizations need to continue to do the best job they can to really emphasize the public health facts, the things that are known and leave politics as much as possible out of it,” Dr. Vraga says.
Although misinformation is spreading, many health organizations offer credible information and are not showing any partisanship, Dr. Vraga says, adding that people should go directly to places like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health and Human Services (HHS) for information.
Watch the full interview above to learn more about how conspiracy theories are spreading during this health crisis.
This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.