Social Media and COVID-19: Taking a Critical Approach

As I scroll through my Instagram feed, the same kind of posts come up too often: misinformation about COVID-19. Coming from a personal standpoint, I understand the urgency to spread any information we see around to others, to attempt to keep each other well-informed. However, it should be done with careful consideration and purpose.


I have seen so many posts reshared relating to COVID-19, and later announced as a piece of misinformation. Especially in a pandemic that has affected millions, it’s important to understand which sources are credible and which are not. For that reason, social media isn’t necessarily the best source to trust.


According to the BMC Medicine journal, posts from the World Health Organization, a globally trusted agency, received a considerably smaller amount of attention, as opposed to false sources. The latter accumulated more than 52 million interactions, as found by the BMC when conducting a comparison between credible and false sources. It’s alarming how much falsity can drag society into a pit of oblivion, overshadowing the important information.


People need quality information that isn’t tinted with hoax. Generally speaking, sharing information on social media could come without purpose or meaning. In Jenny Odell’s 2019 book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, she explains a point worth considering on social media posting.


“It’s not a form of communication driven by reflection and reason, but rather a reaction driven by fear and anger. Obviously these feelings are warranted, but their expression on social media so often feels like firecrackers setting off other firecrackers in a very small room that soon gets filled with smoke” (Odell, 77).


With panic instilled by the pandemic’s circumstances, an opportunity is created for the mass production and distribution of false information, targeting the fear of many individuals. People are so overcome with fear that they unintentionally choose to believe the first sources that they see, even if not all are true or credible. The general rationale is eliminated.

Guy Berger, the Director for Policies and Strategies regarding Communication at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) spoke with UN News on April 13, on the matter of false information about COVID-19.


“We are underlining that governments, in order to counter rumours, should be more transparent, and proactively disclose more data, in line with Right to Information laws and policies,” Berger said. “Access to information from official sources is very important for credibility in this crisis.”


According to UN News, UNESCO is attempting to circulate as much credible information possible, to ensure that it isn’t overshadowed. Additionally, the public is urged by UNESCO to look at sources with a critical eye, so that they are “less likely to believe and spread falsehoods”.


Without a doubt, people still have a right to their freedom of expression. However, it should be used responsibly and thoughtfully during times of urgency and demand for information, particularly during the current global crisis. So, to the people that post on their Instagram stories about COVID-19, please think twice before you press "share."


References


Mian, A., Khan, S. (March 18, 2020). "Coronavirus: the spread of misinformation."

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01556-3 . Accessed 25 May 2020.


Odell, J. (April 2019). How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.


United Nations (April 13, 2020). “During This Coronavirus Pandemic, 'Fake News' Is Putting Lives at Risk: UNESCO."

news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061592. Accessed 25 May 2020.


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