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The Impact of Private Messaging on the Spread of Covid Misinformation

Misinformation has made the current pandemic even worse than it would have otherwise been, and social media platforms have been on the receiving end of the vast majority of criticism that such a thing has created. Social media platforms have definitely played a role in helping the spread of all kinds of misinformation, and this has created an environment wherein conspiracy theories have become dangerously prevalent which has ended up leading to quite a bit of real world violence as well.

This shows that steps need to be taken to prevent the spread of misinformation, and while content moderation done by the platforms themselves can definitely play a role in this, research indicates that social media is not the only entity that can end up being blamed in this regard. It turns out that one of the most pervasive sources of misinformation is private messaging, since conspiracy theories can run wild here and the privacy policies that have been put in place to protect users have made it so that controlling this misinformation has become close to impossible.

A survey of around 2,500 Canadians has revealed that around a quarter of these respondents said that private messages were a major source of news for them. Misinformation and fake news often goes viral on these platforms, with mass texting enabling the people spreading these false details to reach a very large audience indeed. People often share messages that they receive without really thinking all that much about whether or not they are accurate or true, so it can be easy to see how this is making the problem a lot worse than it already is.

With all of that having been said and now out of the way, it is important to note that the number of people that rely on messaging platforms in order to get their news is on the rise. Only 11% of respondents said that they were getting their news from messaging platforms in 2019, and this number has gone up to 21% this year. Hence, while social media platforms deserve a fair share of the blame for the current situation, messaging platforms should not be exempt for criticism here since the role that they play can be quite significant.

This is a very tricky issue to resolve because it involves treading the fine line between violating people’s privacy and preserving their free speech as well as making it so that misinformation ends up having a less significant impact on the world. That said, steps can most definitely be taken, and tech companies that own these platforms should try their best to lead the charge.

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