Controlling the Virus of Misinformation
As the Covid-19 vaccine begins to be rolled out in the UK, its time to prepare for the spread of another virus: misinformation and lies.
In recent years we have seen the very alarming growth in the number of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists who continually use social media to spread lies and misinformation about 5G, vaccines for cervical cancer, flu vaccines, cancer treatments and medications for every conceivable ailment.
Covid-19 gave all of these people a new lease of life and something new to write crazy Facebook posts about.
Many have said it was a hoax. Some have said that it’s a deliberate attempt for the Government to control them. Others have blamed Bill Gates and say he wants to use the vaccine to control peoples’ minds.
Earlier in the year, a group of concerned citizens burned down internet masts in Donegal because they thought China was using 5G technology to spread the virus. The masts that were damaged were 4G masts.
Is there anything we can do to contain the spread?
It’s good to see that RTÉ have taken the lead with a campaign to encourage people to only believe information from trusted news sources, and not posts on Facebook.
This is a good start, and so too is Twitter’s new policy of highlighting tweets that may contain false or misleading information, particularly from President Trump.
The theory that ideas spread, mutate and evolve much like a living organism — or a virus — was popularised by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who in 1976 coined the word “meme” as an analogue to “gene”.
Strange ideas mutate, percolate and multiply in their own gene pools, such as social media groups favouring vaccine conspiracies or the idea that 5G causes cancer. Such groups are inclined to disbelieve the official version of anything.
These ideas need to be cut off at source, and social media platforms and established news outlets need to play a greater role in challenging them.
However, this is a ‘top down’ approach, and the real heavy lifting needs to take place the other way round.
We have all had those unpleasant conversations with people who you wouldn’t want to see start talking about crazy conspiracy theories, how they think the moon landings were fake or how George Soros is at the heart of a global conspiracy.
As Irish people, we’re often too polite to tell them what we really think, but maybe we should be doing it more often.