Coronavirus cases are on the rise but so are Whatsapp forwards, social media posts and messages around pseudo science, religious texts, hate messages, home remedies, unverified medicines as cure for Coronavirus and many more. Such unverified messages, claims, home remedies are always on the boom in time of crisis such as the current outbreak. The whole idea of these messages is to tap into your emotions, inherent beliefs, fears and either help them increase their businesses, create their following (facebook and other social media hate groups), chaos, panic (panic buying) and basically make people more vulnerable and acceptable to such information in future. While it might not strike at first as what damage a simple message like these can create, but these messages can be very dangerous and in many cases these simple fake messages had lead to chaos, incite violence, riots and even death of individuals.
Why people believe in Fake News?
Fake News is nothing new to the society and misinformation had always been spreading in the past as well. However, in past it was much limited to local regions and took lot of effort to get spread. As we saw the rise of internet and social media it became much more easier for people to spread misinformation and cause more damage to society, to incline people towards a particular belief system or increase popularity of a particular leader/political party.
Mostly the fake news or misinformation messages are very simple and easy to comprehend. They usually confirm to people pre-existing belief system or usually requires very simple assemblies to cure something. Also, a particular trend usually found in such messages is that they reference about getting this information from an uncle or aunt or friend of friend which subconsciously provides a certificate of genuineness to such messages. For example, during such crisis many religious groups will start floating messages around reciting certain prayers and giving references of their holy books and texts mentioning a particular epidemic or in case of home remedies they will usually talk about food items or stuffs which are commonly found in every household like ginger, garlic to be used to cure Coronavirus etc. Also, the notion that their is wealth of information on the internet is one of the prime culprits.
In social media platforms such as Whatsapp, twitter etc everybody who receives a new message believes that since it is coming from their known it is risk free and validated. However, this is one of the biggest mistakes and basically helps fake news from spreading more and more into the society. By the time someone counters the arguments in the message the information contained in the fake message has gradually become mainstream and people lose track of whether the information they have is actually a misinformation.
Why the world needs Social Media Superheroes?
Once we understand how the fake news spreads and what damages it could do to the society and to your known ones, it is time to stand up against it. With so many naive users who knowingly or unknowingly spread fake news, it is time that more and more people stand up against the fake news and become the next Social Media Superheroes. Just like Superheroes in comics, social media superheroes can come to the rescue of the world and help stop and fight against the fake news and misinformation.
How to be a Social Media Superhero against Fake News?
You can also become a Social Media Superhero by just following few simple steps as outlined in next sections.
Wait a minute
We know you are a good person and you want to help your family, friends and the society in time of crisis or regular days. So whenever you get a new information via social media such as twitter, whatsapp, facebook, instagram or via email, you are prompt in forwarding it to them. But this is exactly how misinformation or fake news spreads.
Always remember that if you get any new information on these platforms you should wait for a minute and think what you just read. If you have any doubts then research first before sending. If you are not able to find a genuine reference from a certified authority (example for health – it would be your national health website, international associations such as World Health Organization etc) then it must be a misinformation or fake news.
Validate your source
Once you receive a message and you read it, always check if it provides information from a reliable source. Example for health related information does it link back to a url from health website such as from World Health Organization or your national health website. Simply a message referencing words like, “As per UNESCO” or “As per WHO“, “According to NHS“, “CDC experts suggest” and similar content does not become genuine, if they do not contain a link to their such agencies specific website article or a post from their authentic social media account then the information contained in the message is false.
You can also visit certain fact check websites such as – Alt News, Snopes, Fact Check etc. Usually the creators of these websites are very efficient and leave no stone unturned to bring you the correct information as fast as possible however it does take them sometime from the time they become aware of new suspicious or false information circulating in any form and before they can fact check and publish it for you. If you cannot verify the information sooner from these websites, then do not forward it. You can also let the creators of these websites know by letting them know about the new supposedly false message so they can investigate it for you.
Always check if it could be fake
Okay, so people spreading fake news are much clever these days. It is possible to create fake websites or social media accounts impersonating official websites and accounts of health agencies, government, news agencies and popular leaders or celebrities. To validate information in the recent forward message that you received, check it in valid known websites and accounts. If you can’t find the information in these reliable sources it could be false.
Various social media platforms have strengthen their fight against fake news and have put on certain measures such as the blue tick against social media accounts. The blue tick or verified text against accounts mean that those are the official accounts for a particular agencies. If the information you are receiving is from these accounts you can be sure of the origin of these messages.
If you receive a message with a screenshot that contains certain information and shows the name of a genuine trusted agency along with the blue tick or verified showing under their account, please do not forward such message as these can be false as well. It is possible to modify and alter screenshots and make them look genuine. To validate if the message is coming from valid twitter, facebook, or an instagram account check if the message was shared using the sharing option provided by these platforms, if not then the message could be fake. Usually, social media platforms provides their own mechanism of sharing information from their account which then creates a custom message with a link back to their original post. If you find this then the message is genuine else fake.
Especially for Whatsapp one of the ways to find out if the original message is coming from your friend or family and holds their opinion is to check for the “forward arrow” and “forwarded” tag which you can find on the message. If these tags are present then it means that your friend or family member who sent you this message, infact received a forward from someone else and hence requires more investigation from your side.
When In Doubt, Don’t Share At All
We understand you want to do good and don’t want to miss helping anyone as the information might be true or looks harmless from the face of it. However, be careful, a simple forward message which might say something like – eat garlic and Coronavirus can never touch you may be harmful as first it lowers down the urgency of outbreak and second your friend or family might become casual and not follow the prevention techniques suggested by the experts.
You never know how the message could be interpreted by other person. So, the rule of thumb is – if you can’t validate the information do not share it.
Most of the fake messages appear to be true to most people because they practice a particular pattern – most often than not, such messages contain some easily verifiable information which is correct (such as hand washing) but along with this it might be passing on many incorrect or invalid information as well (such as any home remedies). So, check the whole message for each fact before you plan to share it.
Does It Arouse Emotions?
Usually people want to help their loved ones and are protective towards their well being. Since, they care so much about them they also become vulnerable and accept anything that creates a sense of fear, anger or anxious in them. In current scenario certain hate groups were able to circulate hate messages against the Chinese and Asian communities. This lead to assaults and violence against many people from these communities who are fighting against the current outbreak just like everyone else. The problem with such hate messages is that it creates social divide among people and when everybody needs to fight against the Coronavirus such divides creates more problem for society and for the government.
You may also want to consider that in every country there are people from multiple communities who are health workers and fighting against the common enemy. If you are really concerned and want to do good, you should not let yourself be influenced or let others be influenced by such hate messages and create the social divide.
Similarly, there are claims about taking certain medicines or to increase your supplement intake to prevent yourself from Coronavirus. Such, messages when received are forwarded by people thinking them to be harmless but this may lead to other person becoming casual around preventive measures and may eventually get infected.
Break The Chain
If after reading a message you found out that the information appears to be false then you should break this message forward chain and stop these forwards. Also, if you take an additional measure and educate your friend or family who forwarded this message to you then you may be helping create a society that is more aware of these pitfalls.
While social media and the internet was meant to be means of sharing information and bringing people together they can act as tools to create the divide and spread misinformation. In times of crisis when people are more vulnerable it is a good time for fake news and misinformation to spread and it just adds to the chaos. You can make the difference by curbing these fake news, educate others and join the forces against the fake news and misinformation. Do what is right – stop fake news and help your society and your country. We are confident and sure that we as a society can and will be able to win against these new enemies – Coronavirus and the fake news.