Early this week, I read an article showing that at least three 5G masts were set on fire in the UK. The reason has not been revealed yet. However, many opinions are showing that people who burnt 5G towers watched a video on YouTube, or saw tweets by certain celebrities, saying that 5G helped to spread the Coronavirus globally. Accordingly, they tried to burn 5G towers to stop the spread of the virus. If it is proved, I am genuinely disappointed. I previously saw that video shared by one of my classmates, and it is so annoying because the content was unverified. That video later was proved fake and restricted/taken down, but people still believe it. That incident, one more time, rings an alert on fake news, one of the negative impacts of the development of social networks, and of the influence of famous people around the world during this tough time.
Fake News during the Pandemic
Innovation technology makes our lives better. That is the thing I think no one can deny. The creation of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, helps connect people to get them closer. It is a real revolution in human history. However, everything has “two sides of a coin.” Given that many pieces of research or articles have already mentioned the benefits of social media, I would like to discuss its negative impact. Mainly, I will focus on one of the worst thing created by social media: fake news, especially concerning the Covid-19 pandemic.
In February, a Facebook user in Vietnam warned people to stay inside their houses from 23.00 to 4.00 because the Government would use planes to disinfect the whole city. This post was liked and shared quickly, and many people thought it was real. But no, it was a piece of fake news. After that, some other posts were stating an imaginary number of people tested positive and died in Vietnam. Those posts were also fake news. On March 23, I saw a post in the Netherlands with similar content to the ‘plane’ one in Vietnam. Notably, the message (in Dutch, then I translated into English) stated that people should stay inside, their doors and windows should be closed because there would be a disinfectant being sprayed. That was another fake news.
There are several reasons for people to spread fake news to the public. I want to name two main reasons in this post. First of all, the content creators exploit the impact level of the virus on people to promote their own business (e.g., selling other medicines, functional food). They may make some money with fake news based on the number of likes, shares and reposts. Second, people or organizations use phony information to serve competitive and political purposes. Companies use false news to lower the reputation of companies that are launching certain products. For example, companies deploying 5G technology in the world may face questions about the health issue that 5G may cause, which, at some points, decrease the value of such companies. Or specific organizations publish false information to a large number of viewers to create conflict among governments.
Posting fake news about the trending in the world or a particular geographical area is a high-effective way to grab the attention of social network users. That news contains one feature to be attractive: shocking, such as disinfecting a whole city, or virus being spread by radio wave. People are less aware of where the news comes from because we tend to rely on our networks like friends, family members, or even famous persons. Reliance causes a massive opportunity for people to write something false to mislead other people.
If celebrities say something unverified, a real thing can be false
Celebrities should have been aware of what they should and what they should not. I agree that everyone has the right to speak up and give their opinions or even share a post that they find interesting, but before doing so, they should need to at least verify the origin of the information. It would not take too much time, and what they publish online will have a more substantial positive impact.
Back in the case of 5G, it is true that 5G radio waves may cause health problems. There have been several types of research, analysis, and reports on this issue, which raises concerns in the public about whether the development of 5G technology is good or bad. However, there is one thing we should all know: radio wave does not create a virus. Many experts have confirmed it. Covid-19 pandemic is caused by the spread of a virus. That means there is no link between 5G and the pandemic. However, people just relied on what was not justified but shared by the celebs they follow on social networks, then they concluded that there was a connection between the 5G technology and the virus. That makes me feel curious because I do not understand why those celebrities posted something like that on their pages. I am quite sure they know that they have lots of followers, and what they post can have a significant impact on other people.
I have one example, not relating to the virus and 5G burndown, about how famous people influence their followers. Kylie Jenner tweeted about not opening Snapchat anymore on February 21, 2018. She might not intend to make the stock of Snap Inc. reduce. However, sadly the price of Snap Inc. started dropping dramatically after that date, from around $20 per share to $5.07 per share by December 20, 2018. The reason was that, if Kylie did not use Snapchat anymore, her followers might follow her not to use Snapchat later. It is easy to be seen how a post from a famous person affects his/her followers and the public.
Famous people should have done better during the pandemic. Everything they post can become misleading if they do not know where the information comes from and share or re-tweet or say something to support such news. We can see how it “worked” in the case of 5G masts being burnt down.
Controlling fake news: Easy or Not?
Around two months ago, a Vietnamese girl posted on her Facebook that there was a medicine to kill Coronavirus and cure persons who were infected. She said that the number of this medicine was limited, so anyone who would like to buy it should order as soon as possible. Not a long time later, she posted a revised post to say that there was no medicine, and she had to give an apology on that post. Before posting the edited post, she was imposed a monetary fine for breach of law by posting false and misleading information on social media. She was not the only person who was fined for stating fake news on social media (mainly on Facebook). There is a joke in Vietnam recently, saying that the number of people fined for counterfeit news is higher than the number of Covid-19 positive cases. It is because Vietnamese laws have regulations to sanction people in such cases.
However, it may not be easy to pass regulations like this in several countries, given the freedom of speech of civilians. Will people posting fake news, for instance, those who posted about the spread of Coronavirus through 5G radio waves, be fined? I am not sure about that because, in certain countries, they do not have specific punishment or fine for that. I also found out that, in particular workshops about “fake news”, there has been an argument that allowing governmental sanction would grant governments too much power in controlling the right of speech. In such a case, controlling the spread of fake news is onerous.
To control fake news, people, especially celebrities, should take action by themselves, to make sure that they check the source of information before posting them on the Internet. Social media platform providers should also enhance their responsibilities in detecting, warning, and removing ‘toxic’ fake news by improving their algorithm to serve this purpose. These actions may protect other people from not receiving digest false and misleading information on the cyberspace.
What should people do?
It has been four months since the first cases being positive with Coronavirus was announced. There have been more than 1.8 million people tested positive with Covid-19, including several politicians, sports players, actors, etc. This pandemic caused a lot of deaths, and governments and their residents need to work together to fight the virus. What we, social media users, should do is that trying to find official statements, articles, news on official sites of governments and prestige newspapers (there are a lot of trustworthy sources on the Internet), filter and verify the information, and share them (if necessary). Do not spread any news that you do not know where it comes from just because you are panic. Just a few minutes to check the source of information, people can help their families or friends. Social media is excellent and irreplaceable in our daily lives. However, please do not let it be a tool for fraudsters to use to deceive and fool people.