Misinformation and Propaganda – Tech Firms and Social Media, the Epicentre of It All!

With the passage of time, Coronavirus has become a pandemic - a global health scare. As fast as its spreading amongst humans, there has been a rapid unfurling about it online as well! With a lot of harmful misinformation, there is fear and dread of the impending doom amongst the masses. Coronavirus is not only physically affecting people, its tempering with the psyche too, and these online portals are fueling it all up further!

Considering all this, YouTube has started steering its viewers to credible news portals, while Facebook is now sweeping and mass cleaning some “remedial” posts, which are nothing but incessantly phony!

CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg is of the view that, it's easier to set policies that are a little more black and white and take a much harder line when it comes to dealing with a pandemic, that is causing mayhem and making things cross thresholds!

The general chaos in people has led the “health care hoax sites” to become exponentially more popular than websites of public health institutions, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. The social media engagement received by the hoax sites is more than 142 times in comparison with the genuine sites, in the past 90 days!

Carl Bergstrom, a University of Washington biology professor who studies disinformation calls this as the “first social media pandemic.” As per him, a social media environment is not meant to produce accurate claims. Its main purpose is to keep visitors on the site.

With fear, this pandemic unfortunately gave rise to people who became “sellers” overnight on Amazon, eBay and other online selling sites and apps. Good news is that Amazon has removed 1 million products related to untrustworthy health claims and other online retailers have also taken steps to limit attempts to take advantage of public dread for their own benefit. Apple and Google have banned all coronavirus-related apps from their app stores.

All these steps by the tech firms are praiseworthy, but they also raise a question. If these apps and firms can take steps to promote truth regarding a public health crisis, why do they struggle to do the same on other important, politically charged issues? Facebook especially receives a lot of criticism for its negligence in carrying out fact-checking in their ads and various posts.

Although Facebook has begun fact-checking most posts recently, it still receives backlash from employees and law makers about its refusal to fact-check political ads, which it recognizes as liberty of speech. Zuckerberg finds it hard to predict whether Facebook's aggressive efforts to battle against harmful, misinforming COVID-19 content would extend to the 2020 presidential campaign or not.

Having said that, its still commendable that major social media platforms are trying to act “responsible” in the current times of panic and distress. However, people need to become more responsible and pro-active in spreading the truth too - with proper research - rather than posting anything to gain more likes, comments, and shares.

Read next: CoronaVirus – A Major 2020 Dilemma
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