Social media such as Facebook or Instagram has become one of the most popular channels of communication in recent days. As of 2021, there are 82% of people in the United States using social media. Because of its growing popularity, its influence and impact on people is increasing every day.
Although there are many positive benefits of social media such as being able to stay connected with friends and family easily, there are many negative side effects as well. One of the most concerning negative effects of social media is the dissemination of misinformation. This negative effect got amplified when the Covid-19 pandemic started. Especially misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccination has increased significantly and this can be very harmful and threatening to public health.
Why is there so much misinformation about Covid-19 on social media?
1.The nature of social media platforms
Social media platforms are designed to enable people to create and share content such as images, videos, and texts instantly. Users can create their own content or share other people’s content with just one click. On top of that, most social media platforms are free to use. It is an easy and cost-effective way to broadcast your personal opinions to global audiences. Despite its potentially powerful influence on people, users can share anything they want regardless of the type of content — even the most critical information such as news and medical knowledge without fact-checking or source verification. Also, social media often allows people to stay anonymous which lets people create and share misinformation without compunction.
2. Reinforcing confirmation biases
Most social media platforms use advanced AI technologies and provide content to users based on their preference or search history. When users have certain perspectives or beliefs, they will be fed with the information they already believe and that will reinforce their perspectives whether it’s right or wrong. This can be dangerous for people who have scientifically wrong information about Covid-19 or negative perspectives on a Covid vaccination without any verified factual data. People with confirmation biases may not even realize that the content they are consuming is misinformation and share it with others.
3. Social media users who are driven by fear and anxiety
When people are in a state of fear or anxiety, they often take unreasonable actions or make different decisions than when they’re in a normal state of mind. Social media users who are seeking information about Covid-19 online are most likely already in a state of fear and anxiety. They may take the information about Covid-19 without critical thinking or verifying the sources and share it with others. This contributes to spreading misinformation on social media unintentionally.
The U.S Government is trying hard to get people vaccinated to protect against Covid-19. How does misinformation about Covid-19 on social media affect vaccination rates?
As there is an extensive amount of misinformation about Covid-19 and content about vaccine hesitancy or anti-vaccination on social media, it causes a depression among vaccination rates. That misinformation promotes negative perspectives on Covid-19 vaccinations. Consuming this critical content about the vaccination even for a short period of time, as little as five minutes, can directly affect people’s perception and attitude towards vaccination.
As social media has a powerful influence on people, we need to find a solution to minimize the spread of misinformation on social media.
Providing the integrated source verification feature within social media platforms can help reduce the dissemination of misinformation. When users post content related to Covid-19 or vaccinations, the platforms would identify them and offer an option to fact-check by using AI technologies. Once the information is verified, the content will display a “Trusted content” badge. In this way, users can find out whether the information they were about to share was correct or not and educate themselves. Viewers of content can easily figure out if the content they’re viewing is reliable or not based on the presence of the “Trusted content” badge on the screen. Users can click the badge to view the source of the information.
It is evident that the dissemination of misinformation on social media could become a more serious problem with many different issues in the future. Social media platform companies should develop solutions to prevent the creation and sharing of misinformation and individuals should be mindful to critically evaluate the information obtained online.