As tensions rise in America amidst a global pandemic, racial injustice movements and a presidential election, disinformation is being spread frequently.
The use of social media to share information has been used to raise awareness regarding some of these important issues, but on the downside, social media can also be used to promote conspiracy theories and spread false allegations. Right now, it is important for all of us to make sure we fact check what we read and repost.
The QAnon phenomenon is one example of inaccurate claims becoming mainstream and gaining popularity. QAnon supporters have been flooding Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms with false information about COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 election and vaccines. According to The New York Times, these supporters believe that elite public figures are in a clique that runs a child-trafficking ring and worship Satan and that President Donald Trump will expose these figures and bring them to justice. While QAnon may be trying to fight child-trafficking and evil, it is also promoting fake news and violence. The FBI has classified the group as a terror threat, and a report from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center predicts that QAnon could become a national security threat.
In October 2017, the QAnon beliefs first emerged from a 4chan post, an anonymous image board site. It is unclear how many members are in the group at this point, but it seems to have attracted a significant number of followers. Some popular QAnon groups on Facebook and Twitter have over 100,000 members. The Wall Street Journal reported that 10 of these groups have grown by more than 600 percent in members since the start of the COVID-19 lock-downs.
Some social media users other than the QAnon community have also been posting disinformation regarding the pandemic onto their accounts. Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that 6 percent of COVID-19 deaths, roughly 9,000 Americans, died of COVID-19 alone without any other health conditions. Many have distorted this statistic, claiming that the virus killed only 9,000 people altogether.
By press time, the United States faced over 206,000 deaths from the virus, with the majority of the victims having other conditions that affected their health. The CDC statistic is not saying that 94 percent of coronavirus deaths were incorrect; it just means that they died of COVID-19 and organ failure, or a number of other things. From the beginning of the pandemic, doctors have said that immunocompromised people are at a higher risk of complications and death. People in the more vulnerable demographics include, but aren’t limited to, people who are older and those with chronic breathing problems, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Misleading information and propaganda like this coronavirus example can easily be spread through social media. Online platforms not only make it easier for information to be sent out but also interpreted in the wrong way. False news can be posed through ordinary users and even mainstream verified users. Sadly, misinformation is spread all the time through social media, which should be a place where people share the truth in order for positive change.
Though there can be a lot of harmful information being spread, accurate social media posts can also be used for good. Doctors and health care workers are using it to promote safe health and hygiene practices. Students have been able to share causes, charities and petitions they are passionate about to their followers. Social media platforms have allowed people to share their voice on topics that truly matter to them with just one click of a button, whether that is for good or bad.
To truly use social media in a positive way, we should always be checking to make sure that what we repost and take in is accurate. In order to double-check the facts, look if the accounts cite sources for their reasoning. Even though your friends and family may tell you one thing, it does not mean it is true. Look at multiple sources from many points of views, then develop your own opinion. Check your own bias, and make sure that you don’t just distrust information you don’t agree with or only trust information you do agree with.
Fake news can be harmful to the value of the topics being discussed. We should all just try to listen to each other’s opinions and make sure that the real facts of the matter are being put forth. We are all living through trying times, so making sure we do not stray from the truth is important for our safety.