“It doesn’t matter whether it’s true, only that it’s believable.”
That’s from Steve Shahbazian, the author of Green and Pleasant Land, and really captures what we currently have going on with the social media around the world.
The social media landscape has been ripe with falsehoods, baseless accusations and just plain lies over the years and the 2016 election kicked it into overdrive. In fact, I believe the anger and strife brought about over the 2016 election prevented Twitter from being the monster that it was on its way to becoming. Twitter still has about 340 million users (adding just 36 million in the past four years), but Facebook is at just under 2.5 billion users (up more than 1 billion in four years). But at no point has our social media platforms ever been more damaging than where we are right now with the coronavirus.
Everyday when I get in, I am bombarded — via social media — with stories, “facts” and other “I heard...” posts coming to me as a way to spread untruths. I want to believe that this isn’t done with malice, but instead with a desire to get information out quickly and be the one who informed the community.
However, unchecked information can have a negative effect rather than positive.
Recently, I was sent a post where someone said “I heard from my friend that there were tanks on the Laughlin side of the bridge” insinuating that there were military style tanks on the Laughlin side of the Bullhead City to Laughlin bridge to keep people from crossing by using military force. I thought that was ridiculous until I started reading the comments. You had several that said “Really?”
You had more who believed it was true and jumped onto the martial law and government overreach angles and a few who believed it and were stressed over what was going to happen. Then maybe about 20 comments down the page there was a reply for someone who said that he was just there and there were no tanks guarding the bridge. A little while later the post was pulled down.
This may have been a joke or an attempt to rile up the community, but either way it could’ve been dangerous. In a very confused community and world right now, any posts like this could push people on edge already, over that proverbial edge.
The other problem with this is what is really bothering me, and that’s the problem with the coronavirus. We now know that if we had known about this early enough and enacted the right precautions early enough, we could’ve saved lives. Instead, at the beginning, we got 50% “the sky is falling” and 50% “the flu kills more people every year, so don’t worry about this.”
Both of those are equally dangerous. There was no need, and in my opinion still isn’t a need, to panic. Don’t hoard food and sanitary products. Don’t pull all your money out of the bank and sell all your stocks. But limit contact, stay clean and be vigilant.
But the other side is just as bad, or maybe worse, as it leads those who won’t fact-check their information, to believe that everything is fine and this is basically another “type of flu.”
Most of those who said this at the beginning are now coming around and understanding that the amount of people infected in the U.S. doubles every few days as does the number of fatalities. The fact is that you have to be vigilant and follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but don’t overdo it. We all want to stay safe, but you can do that without impacting those around you. When you stockpile toilet paper, you leave others without. When you buy up all the ground beef at the store, you leave others without.
And when you post unfounded, baseless, accusations or personal opinions disguised as facts, you are harming others as well. Your best bet is to follow a reputable news source for your news.
For information on COVID19, go to the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov) or the Johns Hopkins University (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html) sites. For local news, you have the newspaper (http://www.mohavedailynews.com) as well as several online sites. And for those who “heard” or their friend told them, rather than posting it, how about fact-checking it before posting?
If you are unable, then send it to one of the resources above to fact check it for you.
Unless it’s super juicy gossip, then you can just call me.
John Pynakker may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.