Wild Wild Web's pandemic of lies needs a vaccine

Wild Wild Web's pandemic of lies needs a vaccine

We have all encountered false information spread on the internet before.

Heck, this newspaper on occasion carries misinformation. But it must be said that once the mistake is discovered, it is usually acknowledged and corrected.

But such a process of self-correction is rare on the "Wild Wild Web", which is infected to a great degree by misinformation, hoaxes and fake news.

That is to be expected, however. Misinformation, hoaxes, fake news and their relatives probably started to appear as soon as social media became a part -- an important part -- of the internet.

At any human gathering, you have exchanges of information. It could be bits of factual information, speculation, rumour, anecdotes, gossip, or what have you.

In the pre-internet days, when non-factual information was exchanged, the damage was usually limited to within a small circle. In the current digital age, however, data travels at the speed of light. Not only that, it travels through various channels.

So when you want to share some information, you could choose to share it with one person or several groups of people, or even the whole world, at the press of a finger, so to speak.

People naturally like to share information they find interesting or impactful. No topic is currently more fascinating or has more immediate impact than the Covid-19 pandemic.

As expected, the internet is overwhelmed with Covid-related information. At the same time, social media is deluged with information that is often not quite true or even a downright lie.

It is as if there's a pandemic of lies running in parallel with Covid.

Needless to say, such a phenomenon has caused untold damage in terms of lives, health and the economy.

Large numbers of people refuse to be vaccinated with the result that some of them die from Covid or they infect their circles of relatives and friends, further complicating infection-control efforts.

What I find most curious and baffling is that those vulnerable to fake news and conspiracy theories choose to believe random information that cannot be verified or the source of which cannot be traced.

Even when certain pieces of news are found to be fake, they keep circulating on the internet and attracting new believers.

Complicating the matter is that some of those sowing the confusion are well-respected medical professionals and scientists.

A dean of a faculty of medicine and an important voice in the government's Covid-19 administration, for instance, told one interviewer that he would not take mRNA vaccines because he suspected they would cause normal cells to fight the body's own immunity.

Another high-ranking doctor said herd immunity could only be accomplished when everyone was infected with the virus.

I have no reason to believe they have malicious intent, yet I found their dispensing of such information troubling.

There are instances where professional scientists provided information that are used by anti-vaccine and conspiracy-theory advocates to advance their agenda.

It is also baffling that a lot of well-educated people have chosen to trust the information from a tiny group of advocates, but I suspect people with biases choose and pick information more to their liking.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are generally quite accessible and provide opportunities for counter-reactions. But Line Messenger is like a closed society, populated mainly by the boomer generation.

The advantage of this platform is that it allows groups of friends or relatives to communicate. However, because most members of the groups know one another, few people will point out the flaws in the information shared by other members.

The platform provides no avenue to remedy this or report fake or harmful news. At least in my experience, its "Help" service is quite hard to access and unresponsive. It also allows no scrutiny by authorities.

Not that the authorities care to scrutinise it, even though the perpetuation of hoaxes and fake news could be harmful to society at large. At the very least, it perpetuates unreasonable fears of vaccination and prevents the government from reaching its anti-Covid goals.

We have, of course, seen concerned agencies, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society in particular, taking action against what they consider "fake news" spread through Facebook and Twitter. But they were mainly political messages.

We have seen no action, thus far, from these agencies against false information actually harming society in a very tangible way.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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