Social media platforms are filling up with misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s see what impact such Mis-Information is creating on the public.
It is an understatement to say that the world has gone through a huge turmoil in recent months. The speed at which the virus is spreading is alarming and creating an intimidating environment for all humans across the globe. In this evolving crisis, no one really knows the time for which the virus is going to accommodate itself peacefully.
The coronavirus pandemic and its lockdown have redefined how people communicate with each other and the presence of social media today in everybody’s life was inevitable. Thus, with so much rise of social media, can we say that “we’re not just fighting an epidemic, but we’re also fighting an infodemic.”
On Monday, American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the German biotech firm BioNTech announced that their joint COVID-19 vaccine candidate, BNT162b2, is more than 90 percent effective at preventing coronavirus infection. Yes, of course! It’s great and amazing news that but let’s note that misinformation about it is already circulating on social media. With this much misinformation circulating on social media platforms, an important question arises: Is social media ready for a COVID-19 vaccine?
A speedy end to the pandemic now seems like a distinct dream. There is so much misinformation circulating on social media regarding the vaccine. It’s approximately a year now, and still, coronavirus is able to pull off the headlines of news in every newspaper, TV channel, and digital news platforms. Every now and then, we receive a new about coronavirus, some true but mostly false. With all this going on in the background, have you ever thought, “What if we get a COVID-19 vaccine, but many people refuse to take it?”
Fake news & COVID-19: The never-ending saga
If you ask me, I would say that this circulation of COVID vaccine news is part of a big information war. It occurred to me that all the misinformation we’ve seen so far – drinking alcohol can cure coronavirus, Sachin Tendulkar wants meat shops to be shut, Coronavirus was developed in Chinese (or American, or French) labs – is actually a part of the bigger false information when an effective vaccine becomes available to the public.
In many cases, people actually share fake information for fun. People often tend to have more interest when it comes to celebrity gossip, weird stories (like it all started with bat soup), and that the major reason behind the fast and furious spread of fake news and misinformation. When such news spreads on social media, many people who believe such news and the cycle of forwarding the news goes on without a stoppage.
Fake news witnessed an all-time high during the pandemic. A survey done by Social Media Matters along with the Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics has revealed that 69 percent of people received fake news during the lockdown. The major source of fake news was WhatsApp with 88.4 percent circulation of fake news, followed by Facebook with 42.5 percent and Instagram with 21.96 percent.
The big information war
Whenever there is vaccine news, the social media floods with misinformation, conspiracy theories, and propaganda aimed at convincing people that the vaccine is a threat rather than a lifesaving, economy-rescuing miracle. A study from Cornell University earlier in October found that the US President Donald Trump was the world’s biggest driver of COVID-19 misinformation. Trump even once dismissed COVID as regular flu and was often seen in public without even wearing a mask.
For example, as soon as the information of Pfizer and BioNTech developed vaccine came, a few Twitter accounts, including those of Donald Trump Jr. and Sen, Ted Cruz, had started questioning the timing of the vaccine announcement just days after the result of US presidential election. The researchers estimate that Donald Trump Jr.’s tweet alone could have been seen by nearly seven million people.
Since the pandemic began, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have faced pressure from governments to combat theories about COVID-19 vaccines. The information regarding the development of vaccines is so much prevalent on social media that now it is hard for people to believe that vaccine is soon to arrive. Hence, there is a need for the vaccine companies to start providing accurate information to the public to discontinue the spread of misinformation.
Social media platforms working to tackle misinformation
Social media today is now more important than ever. As we are more isolated now, social media is providing its shoulders to us in getting the world’s news. But much misinformation is spreading through it, and therefore there is a dare need for the platforms to scrutinize the presence of information on them.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in recent months have looked to elevate reliable sources, like local officials and organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). And also, the platforms have also said that they will continue turning to official sources of health information if and when a vaccine is announced.
Facebook has even changed its approach to fighting misinformation and is also evaluating the need for accurate public health messaging. The platform has become more proactive in recent months and has launched a campaign that urged people to get the flu vaccine. It also has banned advertisements that discourage people from getting vaccinated.
Twitter is also trying its best to block misleading advertisements about vaccines. Twitter is also crafting its policies that will battle misinformation and its spread. While video sharing platforms such as YouTube is building its infrastructure to ensure the content about COVID-19 vaccines from public health authorities is elevated.
However, social media platforms are trying to combat the misinformation present online, but still, some worrisome content is available on social media regarding COVID-19 vaccine information. It’s hard to get rid of 100 percent misinformation present on social media platforms because the platforms are available to almost everyone on the globe and with the presence of so many users it is actually very difficult to monitor each and every user’s activities.
Recently on YouTube, there are some videos of people proclaiming why they will not take a Covid-19 vaccine. While on Twitter, many people seem to claim one or the other fact about COVID vaccine. And on Facebook, there are specific groups that are planning to organise and launch campaigns about not taking a Covid-19 vaccine if it arrives.