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8 months ago by Helen Doughty

Covid-19 | Fake News

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Executive Grapevine reports on the issue of Fake News and the importance of clarity from business leaders

In times of crisis, there are essentially three key elements that businesses need to constantly maintain.

One is clarity, in that every key decision, every inevitability and every mitigation process should be open and honest with staff. If they’re going to lose their jobs or face challenging circumstances, the sooner you tell them with enough time to plan and search out solutions the better. The second is obviously to take action. Acting like everything is fine and that an unprecedented global crisis isn’t a big deal is foolish, and actually risks lives. You can’t ignore it, and you can’t simply pretend it’s all going to be fine and soldier on. This is something Executive Grapevine has covered extensively over the past weeks and will continue to report on as details emerge.

However, today we’re discussing the third key essential element that all businesses and business leaders must be constantly considering – separating the factual information that is useful and on which plans can be built, and the fiction that circulates online, and inevitably fills the rumour mill within the workforce in times of adversity. It will take only a small rumbling of an issue for one worker or another to start telling stories about their friend’s brother’s neighbour being devastatingly hit by the issue.

Your job as a leader is to stem the thread of misinformation as soon as possible and provide the sources to the information that the business works from, rather than give in to the temptation to proliferate unfounded rumours. For example, various stories have gained virality over the last few days around young professionals taking ibuprofen whilst suffering from COVID-19 and having mysterious reactions to the combination. To make matters more complicated, this has mingled with genuine NHS advice and snowballed into a confused message that has taken workplace chats such as Slack and Teams by storm.

Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, recently told the BBC that all such messages should be taken with a massive pinch of salt, if not ignored completely. “There is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (Covid-19) worse... until we have more information, take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus unless your doctor has told you paracetamol is not suitable for you,” she stated.

False messages

"There are four young people in an intensive care unit in Cork who have no underlying illnesses – all were taking anti-inflammatories and there are concerns this has caused a more severe illness," (false).

The University of Vienna has sent a memo warning people with coronavirus symptoms not to take ibuprofen, "because it has been discovered that it increases the speed of reproduction of the coronavirus Covid-19 in the body and this is the reason why people in Italy have reached the current bad stage and rapid spread," (false).

"At the university hospital in Toulouse, France, there are four very critical cases of coronavirus in [young people] who do not have any health problems. Their problem is that when they all appeared to have symptoms, they all took painkillers like ibuprofen," (false).

Where should you get your information? 

The Government recommends ignoring all sources of information on health that aren’t officially sanctioned by either the UK Government or the NHS. Currently, the NHS has a dedicated website just for guidance and updates on the spread of COVID-19