by Nick Kossovan
On Monday, December 14, 2020, Canada started the journey towards the light at the end of the tunnel—the first COVID vaccines, created by Pfizer, were injected into Canadians’ arms. Social media during the pandemic has played a significant role in informing people, and continues to do so. As well, social media became a haven to escape from the craziness by doing viral challenges – from doodling, trick shots, baking, and dance-based challenges on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
COVID became a catalyst for news agencies to broaden their social media presence. Access to reliable information is now a vital part of our daily routine. Conversely, a lot of information circulating on the Internet is engineered misinformation. Remember the conspiracy theory that 5G towers give people COVID? Then there was Donald Trump, the world’s most noteworthy driver of COVID misinformation, declaring antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine being a “game-changer.” Then, during a White House briefing, Trump suggested an injection with a disinfectant, such as bleach, would fight the virus. I won’t get into the number of “COVID miracle cures” floating around the Internet.
There are two types of false information that thrive:
- Misinformation—inadvertently drawing conclusions based on wrong or incomplete facts.
- Disinformation—deliberately spreading fabrications to promote an agenda.
Both are a serious threat to public health.
Social media platforms facilitate the spreading of information, which is their reason for existence and popularity. Unfortunately, this ease of communicating information has led to widespread disinformation complicating public health response, creating confusion, and contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
At this critical stage, when we’re finally starting to turn the corner to head into a post-COVID world, ask yourself: What’s my social media responsibility now? Your social media responsibility begins with separating disinformation from accurate information. How? By trusting your common sense. If the information in question doesn’t sound right, or seems suspicious, don’t immediately trust it. More importantly, don’t forward it, share it (i.e., retweet, post on Facebook), or like it—this will just spread the disinformation. Do some research!
I suggest getting your information from multiple sources, so you can compare the information and make an informed decision. There are many digital “one shop” news resources available that will provide you with news articles from reliable sources. Being an Apple iPhone user, I use Apple News+. Other reliable news resources I’d recommend: Google News, Reuters, Associated Press, and Newspaper Source Plus.
When reviewing a news source, ask yourself:
What’s the author’s knowledge about the subject?
Does the author, or media outlet, have an agenda?
Where did the author get their information?
When was the material written?
Has the material been reviewed for publication or simply posted with a disclaimer?
Suppose the news source doesn’t provide information about the author, or isn’t clear where the author got the information. In that case, credibility and reliability are hard to evaluate – a red flag. Sources that clearly state these things are generally more reliable.
It goes without saying: never trust, forward, or repost anything appearing on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed without first doing due diligence. You owe yourself to check your sources of information; it’s a large part of being social media responsible. You don’t want to unintentionally spread rumors, or fake news, that has the potential to lead to vaccine hesitancy.
Social media companies are beginning to show a willingness to address disinformation on their respective platform. However, those with an agenda to undermine trust in the vaccine will not be using outright lies. Instead, they will be leading campaigns designed to undermine the institutions, companies, and people managing the rollout. They’ll be posting vaccine injury stories and providing first-person videos detailing side effects that are difficult to fact check. When a radio station asks on Facebook, “Will you be getting the COVID vaccine?”, the comments will be flooded with conspiracy theories.
There’s nothing you or I can do to prevent COVID disinformation from appearing on social media. By verifying your information sources, refraining from spreading rumors, along with washing your hands and wearing a mask while in public, you’ll be doing your part in helping to wrestle this pandemic into becoming a footnote in our history.