It seems that there is more than one truth in the world. This is mostly due to social media, which allows disinformation and misinformation to be spread to large numbers of people without any fact-checking. It is expected that the situation will only get worse.
It is concerning that misinformation can even be used to promote domestic terror, as in the case of January 6, which was a major worry.
Professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Dr. William Pelfrey Jr. said that social media platforms generally have abrogated responsibility to misinformation dissemination.
Covid Misinformation A Threat Again
As Covid-19 case numbers continue to rise, it seems that there may be new waves of misinformation on social media.
“While Twitter and some social media sites restricted Covid-19 misinformation, rolling back those limitations serves only one master – profit,” Pelfrey suggested. As evidenced by the rapid rise of users on other platforms, those who want to spread lies will find a way. Twitter decided to remove restrictions and spread misinformation in order to attract those users.
The social media platforms are still struggling to find a balance between legitimate speech and the protection of public health.
Jeni Stolow assistant professor of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine warned, “There might not be a perfect equilibrium.”
“Misinformation safety networks are intended to impartially fact-check harmful or illegal information to protect platform user,” she said. These interventions may not be perfect but they have the potential to positively affect safety, health and well-being.
Even though these misinformation policy are in place, we need to be able to better and more transparently link companies, public healthcare endeavors and platform users.
Public health can be impacted by accurate messaging this winter.
Stolow stated that “the research results are very clear” and said misinformation could contribute to Covid-19 mortality and morbidity as well as perpetuate stigmatism, xenophobia and hate speech. It is also well known that misinformation can negatively affect public health response efforts, as well as health outcomes in other epidemics and emergencies. Also, data shows misinformation spreading faster and wider than correct information from social media platforms, such as Twitter.
The Public Perception
It is possible to be dangerous by spreading misinformation about health topics like Covid-19 or other diseases.
Stolow stated that public health’s goal is to provide evidence-based information so people can make informed choices to protect their own health as well as the health of others. Misinformation can hinder that informed decision making and make people take unsafe, unhealthy decisions which could lead to death or sickness.
It is time for social media companies to step back, evaluate their platforms, policies, and if that fails it might be up to legislators to rectify the situation.
Pelfrey said that Congress might eventually impose guidelines. Self-regulation would be a benefit to social media platforms, as they won’t like the guidelines that Congress puts forth.”