The recent emergence of the Coronavirus pathogen has inadvertently cast a spotlight on a pervasive and troubling new trend. According to the results of a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, nearly three in ten adults regularly consume their news through established social media channels. The same study revealed that just 21% of the respondents believe that social media outlets have an appropriate amount of control over the news they publish.
Unsourced information and videos have surfaced on a variety social media channels as the Coronavirus has spread throughout China and abroad. Some of the videos are frankly very disturbing and have been widely circulated. As the contagion spreads and the death toll and number of those who are infected increases, so too spreads the panic. Conspiracy theories, rumors and outright incorrect information are rampant on the Internet as a vaccine, while in development, remains elusive.
In their roles as de facto publishers, prominent social media companies have a responsibility to manage this flow of disinformation. This is a daunting challenge, particularly since anyone can publish a thought or video at the speed of light. Twitter announced its strategy to combat the spread of misinformation on its blog yesterday. The post revealed that the site has seen, “over 15 million Tweets on this topic in the past four weeks and that trend looks set to continue.”
Part of Twitter’s strategy to address misinformation is to redirect readers to authenticated news sources first. “Given the rapidly evolving nature of the issue and the growing international response, we’ve launched a new dedicated search prompt to ensure that when you come to the service for information about the #coronavirus, you’re met with credible, authoritative information first.” While Twitter reports that it hasn’t identified “significant” coordinated attempts to disinform the public, it reminds us that we, as consumers of information, also have a responsibility to be thoughtful and deliberate as we consider reports that are published online.
Reader beware, and think before you share.