Social Media and COVID-19 Fearmongering

1 April 2020. Posted in Social Media by
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On the streets of social media, everyone walks their opinions confidently on the timeline, unbothered by opposing views. Predicated on free speech, the various platforms provide fertile ground for debate, discourse and, most tragically, false information. As the world grapples with the reality and uncertainty of the coronavirus, social media has been found to allow for misinformation that is almost as infectious as the virus itself. Considering the seriousness of the virus, it is very important for us to look beyond our peers’ social media posts and go to sources such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NIDC) for correct information. 

Corona on the timeline

Social media is a digital wonderland filled with activists, opinionists, influencers and motivational speakers, but it’s also replete with scammers, conspirators, false prophets, and ill-informed people parading as subject matter experts. In a time where the world is faced with a grave health crisis, it’s important to guard ourselves against fake news. Fear-inducing sensationalism has made its way to social media and this has resulted in a form of groupthink, which is affecting people’s ability to keep calm and just follow the guidelines and recommendations of those with more knowledge and authority. 

In and of itself, social media is not a bad thing at all. Memes are actually getting us through this very confusing and scary time, and governmental and health institutions are using Facebook and Twitter to disseminate updated information about COVID-19. But the chain messages on Whatsapp and long, conspiratory Facebook posts are clouding many people’s judgement. In this regard, mass communication platforms are doing more harm than good. Inaccurate information about coronavirus is spreading like a wildfire on social media. All of a sudden, everyone’s an expert on matters relating to the nature of the virus, why it is spreading and how it can be treated. This misinformation is creating a sense of impending doom that is leading to much fear and panic, which is making it incredibly difficult for people to distinguish what is factual from what is inaccurate. 

People are emptying store shelves in apocalyptic panic, not realising that they’re just increasing their chances of contracting coronavirus and leaving behind very little resources for those who need them the most. The truth of the matter is that even the actual facts themselves are alarming and terrifying, so disseminating fake news only adds more angst to the digital atmosphere and our homes, which we cannot leave due to the 21-day lockdown that has been implemented to keep the virus from spreading further. 

COVID-19 breakdown 

The clip below is taken from the World Health Organisation’s YouTube channel. As we all sit in our homes, trying to make the most of a time of obscurity, let’s do our best to keep informed. 

Use social media wisely

There is no fact-checking on social media, neither is there any function that allows us to weave through what is false and what is accurate. In the midst of this global health crisis, we all have a role to play. As we look to social media for comfort and a healthy distraction during this time, let us all be responsible with how we use the various platforms to share information. If the content that you see is not aligned to the information that is shared by the government and reputable institutions such as WHO, think very carefully before you share it. Fear is spreading faster than the virus and that’s the last thing the global community needs right now. Play your part in preventing sensationalism from running amok on our timelines. Social media is a powerful tool for education and empowerment, use it wisely.  

The internet provides us with on-demand news, which can be very triggering. As noted in a Forbes article, “the unprecedented level of real-time information at our fingertips can both give us the tools we need to make smart decisions, but also make us more anxious about what’s to come.” Even as you take the time to keep yourself informed, give yourself a break from triggering news. Your mental health during this time is just as important as your physical health.

References: 

Cellan-Jones, R. (2020). Is Social Media Spreading the Virus? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-51510196  
De la Graza, A. (2020). How Social Media Is Shaping Our Fears of — and Response to — the Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://time.com/5802802/social-media-coronavirus/

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