Social media, rumors and disasters
In recent years the widespread usage of social media has facilitated the quick propagation of information around the world. Hundreds of millions of people utilize the internet and social media platforms to get easy access to the information they want. Unfortunately, the bulk of social media users do not care to adhere to any moral or ethical standards while disseminating information. They upload items on social media without doing any verification to make sure the information is authentic.
There is no denying the fact that electronic, print, and social media all play-ed a pivotal role in educating the public on various issues including COVID-19. However, the most talked-about issue and challenge with social media is the integrity and veracity of the information they provide. In general, social media facilitates the rapid spread of rumors and serves as a haven for scaremongering and the propagation of false information during disasters. There is a lack of social responsibility on the part of social media websites or posts in social networks and contain a lot of false statements and information that can confuse other users by design or default. As a result, the misuse of information across various platforms is a grave concern for all of us.
Experts believe that lack of information about the COVID-19 is not a big issue but curbing of dissemination of false information is the real problem. On one side bombardment of information from various sources is causing mental health issues in the people. On the other side, the dissemination of rumors on social media is on the rise. As a result, it created a chaotic situation among people, as on regular basis people concocted a new rumor.
Some conspiracy theories are being circulated through social media abo-ut COVID-19 vaccines that have poisoned an environment already infested with distrust and skepticism since the start of the pandemic. These rumors hamper the vaccination drive among the people but contribute to the spread of the corona virus. There are some famo-us examples of these rumors about the COVID-19 vaccine: one, the coronavirus pandemic is a cover for a plan to implant trackable microchips. Two, receiving a vaccine causes you to be magnetic. Third, it’s not a pandemic; instead, it’s a hoax to make money from vaccinations. Four, the vaccine’s administration will modify DNA. Fifth, the vaccine will cause infertility. Sixth, the coronavirus vaccine may not be effective and has side effects. Seven, the vaccines will make you sick with COVID-19. Eight, I have already had COVID-19 so I don’t need to get the vaccine. Nine vaccinated people would die within two years etc.
History is replete with examples where increased polio infections were reported in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as a result of a boycott of the polio vaccination owing to claims that it caused infertility. Rumors frequently cast doubt on government and non-government authorities’ health policies and interventions, as well as international health organizations. By and large, every vaccination encounters an acceptance issue at some point. Because vaccinations are provided to humans and they have the choice to refuse. Rumors and conspiracy theories have been implicated as factors that contribute to vaccination hesitancy. People avoid immunizations because of misinformation and rumors. Vaccination uptake has always been hampered by false reports regarding vaccine efficacy.
Pakistan is one of the countries that is actively administering vaccinations to its citizens and aiming to achieve maximum uptake. However, just approximately one percent of the population has been vaccinated thus far. Rumors and conspiracy theories created mistrust, which can lead to vaccination hesitancy. Res-ultantly, some people may delay or refuse the vaccination due to a lack of confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, thereby compromising national and international control efforts.
Social media platforms have increased in popularity as a source of health-related information. During the pandemic, individuals may utilize social media to learn more about the disease, how it spreads, and how to prevent it. Online health information is sometimes bolstered by rumors and conspiracy theories that aren’t necessarily based on scientific evidence. Users who seek health information on internet platforms face the risk of being exposed to misinformation that might endanger public health.
People post false information on social media for a variety of reasons. In any case, the proliferation of false information and rumors on social media during and after disasters is not unusual. While this information cannot be eliminated, however, the first responder agencies can devise strategies to combat it. In every disaster management plan, there should be measures to prevent and respond to rumors. People should not only be informed about the facts and accurate information on time but there should also be a mechanism in place to prevent rumors from spreading. As a result, fear should not be created among those who are impacted, and they should not be further misguided. In their business operations, social media platforms should also step out and assure strict adherence to the rules and regulations including social responsibility, transparency, and accountability.
The need of the hour is for individuals to communicate only authentic and trustworthy information. People shou-ld not disseminate extremely awful material that has been published to cause unrest and anxiety. When seeking treatment for any ailment, people should only consult authorized professionals. As responsible citizens, people should not work as post offices to spre-ad rumors and misinformation through social media. There is a famous proverb in the Pashto language says that “By the time that the truth comes out, lies will have destroyed many villages”.