Avoiding the landmines on social media - GulfToday

Avoiding the landmines on social media

Social Media

If there is one risk or danger on social media, it is misinformation or fake news as the term goes. The problem is that if one constantly keeps trumpeting lies, online or otherwise, it will be treated as truth by all and sundry.

In mid-February last year, the World Health Organisation announced that the new coronavirus pandemic was accompanied by an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation.

Amid an unprecedented global health crisis, many journalists, policy makers, and academics have echoed the WHO and stressed that misinformation about the pandemic presents a serious risk to public health and public action.

What is more serious is rogue cyberbuffs twisting facts and images of people who are not on the VIP or fame radar to suit their selfish whims, often bordering on the sadistic.

What manipulators do is that they use the information and twist it so much that it gives a contrarian view of the original opinion – just the opposite of what the subject said, much to his or her agony.

Michelle Rockwell, a 39-year-old family medicine doctor from Tulsa, Oklahoma, lost a pregnancy in December and shared her heartache with her 30,000 Instagram followers. Weeks later, she received the COVID-19 vaccine and posted about that, too.

By February, Rockwell was trying to come to terms with her loss and grief and finally starting to experience moments of joy. But then, to her horror, social media users began using her posts to spread the false claim that she miscarried as a result of the shot.

They said horrible things to her, like how could she possibly get the vaccine, that she was a baby killer, and that she could be barren forever and would never have babies again. Even though she knew that research showed the vaccine was safe for pregnant women, she said the posts brought her trauma to the surface and hurt her “to the core.”

Many people have found themselves swept into the misinformation maelstrom, their online posts or their very identities hijacked by anti-vaccine activists and others peddling lies about the outbreak.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, experts warn, false or misleading posts can mean the difference between someone taking precautions or not. Repugnant or malicious behaviour on social media has stoked worries about the negative results of online operations.

Yes, social media may have its plus side. Some social networking sites may be spreading misinformation, but social media is also used by internet buffs for solace and comfort. It has helped them at a time of anxiety and isolation, according to a report. They are generally used with other channels of information.

But the fact remains that seeing harmful content is not rare, but rather the norm, for many social media users. There is the belief that COVID-19 was developed in a lab, despite this not being an attested theory.

It’s not that social media giants are not doing anything about it. A recent report said Alphabet unit Google will contribute 25 million euros ($29.3 million) to the newly set up European Media and Information Fund to combat fake news.

Negative feedback on social media could lead to low self-esteem, subsequently leading to depression.

The problem with social media is that the whole platform is based on engagement and viral value, a cheapjack way to instant fame, with utter disregard for truth. The sorry fact is that some feckless people just don’t care for the consequences, and post all kinds of stuff with gay abandon.

Misinformation about the pandemic presents a serious risk to society. When you’re in a situation where the world is confusing, you’re trying to latch on to what’s true. One has to be constantly on the alert, looking for pitfalls, to sift fact from fiction. Unfortunately, in a world where mediocrity and gullibility thrive (the two are inextricably linked), this is a challenging task.

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