“Holy ****!! Watch — screenshot and share! A friend who is a nurse sent this to me!! Get the word out!”
In the last couple of months, three local people I know and like – real friends – have used Facebook to send me links to ‘news’ articles or videos that deliberately promote false information about the COVID-19 vaccine such as: it’s designed to alter our DNA, we will be implanted with a microchip, the virus doesn’t exist, etc.
I find this surprising, considering that neither these friends nor I are outlier ‘fringe’ types nor conspiracy theorists. They know I make a living by checking facts, so why are they sending to me obviously bogus propaganda?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Fake news is spreading faster than the virus itself. According to the CBC, from the beginning of the pandemic through to October, Facebook removed “12 million pieces of individual misinformation content that is harmful in nature.” According to the article, if something is widely shared, is highly up-voted or has a lot of likes, more people are likely to believe it.
Anyone watching what’s happening south of our border already knows the extreme damage that sowers of misinformation can reap. But harmful campaigns of misinformation are on the rise here, too.
In Montreal, police are readying themselves to respond to a group that has threatened on social media to visit vaccination sites in order to hand out “accusation” forms to healthcare staff who perform the COVID-19 injection to try and stop the inoculations. Just down the road from us in Fort-Coulonge, an anti-lockdown protest was held last week, and one sign, clearly held by a QAnon supporter, read: “Lockdown, the satan-worshipping, child-sacrificing, greedy, power-hungry Elite, let my people go!”
Those three friends who sent me the misleading reports do not fall in the extremist category, as do the examples above. In fact, I’m quite certain they honestly believe they are just trying to help when they click “share”.
But what they are doing is the exact opposite of help, and friends don’t let friends spread harmful misinformation.
It needs to be stated clearly: it is everyone’s civic duty to fact check before they “share.” If you care at all about coming out of this pandemic anytime soon, if you care about saving people’s lives, take five minutes to do a tiny bit of research. It’s not hard, here’s how: most claims can be easily verified by looking them up at Snopes.com; check the ‘doctor’ or expert’s name on a credible site like Wikipedia (which might reveal the cited ‘expert’ as being professionally discredited); better yet, only share articles from recognized news sources like the CBC, Canadian Press, Associated Press, BBC, etc.
We can only get this pandemic under control if the majority of people opt in and get innoculated. Shaking public confidence about the vaccine only creates a whole new public health problem — that’s why it is anything but harmless to share something you ‘think’ might be true or not, no matter how innocent your motives.
Human lives are on the line. The least everyone can do is make a couple of extra clicks to check the facts.