Social media has been used as a tool to spread fake news regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering the impacts of the pandemic on public health, governments across the world would be massively interested in disseminating true and factual information to the masses, especially where compliance is necessary to protect public health. Information overload has been blamed for this phenomenon, which means that better filters or applications are needed. Considering the extent of this problem, this report proposes the development of a mobile application that can be used to disseminate the right information to the public. The sole purpose of this application, as will be discussed in the sections below, is to allow only authentic or accredited content creators to post and share Covid-19-related information.
Fake news and misinformation have always been a major issue across the world. The challenge becomes more magnified during the coronavirus pandemic because the information shared has the potential to determine the health outcomes of the entire countries. Several studies have been conducted to explore the extent and dangers of misinformation regarding Covid-19. According to Duraisamy et al. (2020), social media has become the most searched venue during information gathering by people. Therefore, the presence of rumours and false information regarding the pandemic means that those searching for information will have a high likelihood of getting misinformed. The decisions they make using false information will have a critical implication on their health outcomes. Social media often operates under the maxims of freedom of speech and expression, as well as other basic rules of democracy.
Controlling the information in such contexts becomes a major challenge for governments as illustrated by the heated debates regarding the subject of social media censorship. When entrusted with the job of censoring content, such social media companies as Facebook tend to remove content they regard as objectionable. Such content includes violence glorification and hate speech but it is almost impossible for them to filter fake news (Niemiec, 2020). The argument is that such networks as Facebook, or even the governments, cannot invade personal privacy in search of misinformation and non-factual rumours. Therefore, censoring does not appear to be the right mechanism for addressing misinformation regarding Covid-19. Peer-to-peer sharing of information is one of the features of social networking sites that makes it difficult to monitor. A complex and sophisticated algorithm would be needed to check every bit of information sent, which simply amounts to censorship. It can be argued, however, that an algorithm can be developed to filter Covid-19-related data by checking all keywords used alongside the pandemic. Even so, filtering all the data considered false will remain impossible.
Health communication is particularly the main aspect of public health affected by fake news. A case study of India helps illustrate this point considering that the country is one of the most affected by the pandemic. According to Al-Zaman (2021), the consumption of social media information rose from 60% before to 90% during the pandemic. The detection of fake news may have risen by 12%, but there remains a major risk that that information not detected will affect the decision-making of the consumers. The healthcare systems are in disarray because of this proliferation of fake news. In times of crisis, health communication should be initiated by the relevant bodies, which makes it possible to accredit the sources and determine the credibility and validity of the information. Today, the public is required to undertake several measures for self-protection, and when there are too many people spreading their personal and unfounded ideas, it becomes difficult for the healthcare officials to effectively communicate. For example, sensitive issues of masks and sanitizers are among the most discussed in social media with many people believing they have the right answers.
In essence, there is a need for the government or the healthcare system entities to have a formal platform for communicating true and authenticated information. They can use social media, but the availability of too much information makes it hard to create the desired effect in terms of public compliance and awareness. The bottom line is that without a formal platform, people will choose to believe the sources they want and end up making the wrong decisions. Such a scenario makes it extremely difficult to fight such a crisis as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The context for this problem is social, specifically public health communication. It involved how people interact and communicate important messages that affect the overall health of the public. The emergence of social media means that people can remotely communicate about emerging issues. In other words, social media has increasingly become one of the primary means of disseminating information in modern society. However, the fact that everyone can get involved in discussions on critical topics means that the society itself tends to generate and propagate its ideas even when they are not verifiable or scientifically correct. In politics or other settings, the social problem may have fewer implications on the daily lives of people. However, using the social networking sites during crisis may prove to be detrimental to the society. The argument is that where critical decisions are made using the available data then wrong and fake sources can harm the wellbeing of people. The changing society and the inclination towards the use of social media as a primary platform for searching information regarding current issues may leave people vulnerable.
As a social problem, social media is the main platform for spreading fake news. Modern society is particularly vulnerable because people hardly want to verify information made available to them. In terms of public health, the context of this social problem is how the relevant health agencies and entities communicate advisory messages to people. The government is keen to inform people regarding current issues affecting their health and wellbeing, with the Covid-19 being a case in point. Society needs to learn how it can protect itself, both at the individual and social levels. Such information currently comes from too many sources, which could have a detrimental implication on validity and credibility. Health communication in times of crisis is critical, and it requires that the society has a genuine and credible source of information. With social media, this is almost impossible, which means a solution needs to be found.
The proposed solution for the problem is a dedicated mobile application for use in public health communication. The application will be used only by verified personnel and institutions in the healthcare system of a country. The rationale is that while social media makes it impossible to control the users of social networking sites, it might be effective to control the sources of information posted on such platforms. Social media is often peer-to-peer sharing platforms, which means a slight deviation from this functionality would be needed. In other words, the application has only corporate and public entities sharing updates to the end-users. While people may be able to generate content, such would not be informatory in nature. Rather, people only get a chance to make enquiries with only verified individuals responding to them.
A perfect example of how the mobile application should work is how commercial businesses communicate with their customers using social media. In such situations, the firms have a social media page where representatives address the concerns of the consumers. The end users can ask questions and the representatives can answer the questions. During the crisis, the government and other spokespeople from the healthcare system have been given a similar responsibility. In other words, such individuals are tasked to create updates regarding the pandemic and to communicate other key messages to the public. While the use of social media makes it possible to reach out to many people, such messages are accompanied by others from unverifiable sources. It means that the information cannot be censored, while the proposed application makes censorship a possibility.
Social media is critical for sharing information, especially in times of crisis. Therefore, it is important to express that the application is not a stand-alone application. In other words, the application should be integrated with social networking sites to make it accessible to social media users. There are multiple options for this integration with social media. First, it can be designed as an add-on or an extension to social networking sites. In such as approach, any user of social media can view the application and click to log in or sign up. Such companies as Facebook have used the same approach to integrate the applications the firms also own, including Instagram.
Second, the application can be designed as a functionality within the social networking sites. For example, a user of Facebook can open a tab that contains all Covi-19 communication. Pop-ups and notifications should be the main feature to alert users every time something new has been posted. Most social media sites work the same, which makes it possible for the users to instantly open the applications and read all the new posts. Therefore, a lot can be learned from the development of most social media applications with their functionality offering the best possible results.
The recommended output is a tool or platform for the dissemination of real, valid, and credible information regarding the pandemic. A platform that engages people and allows the public health system to effectively communicate with the public is created. The most important output is the fact that the misinformation taking place through social media is mitigated. In other words, a mobile application for specific use by the healthcare system personnel means that all information is validated by the relevant authorities. The messages sent to the public are sanctioned by the relevant governing bodies. Therefore, all other rumors can easily be dismissed by people searching for information. The problem of misinformation can be solved by providing a single trusted source of information that can be accessed by all people.
A key aspect of the recommended output is that the mobile application is available to all social media users. Integrating the application with social media means that all people on the platforms cab access it by default. Its functionality makes it possible for individuals to know when new information and updates have been posted. Therefore, it makes it possible to offer information even before people can actively search for it on social media. Such an act can be labeled as taking total control of the sources of information. People use the information on social media because they believe it to be true. However, other information available on the platforms contradicts what has officially been posted makes it possible for users to dismiss it as false. Additionally, an interactive platform is also created, which allows users to engage the relevant personnel to make any clarifications they desire. Instead of searching for information from social media, people can simply ask questions and expect experts to reply. Therefore, the overall outcome is an official trusted channel for the right information to counter all fake news in the media.
The purpose of this report was to express a solution to a social problem. The use of social media for misinformation and spreading fake news is a critical social concern, especially when such information affects how people behave and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. The solution is in the form of a mobile platform, which acts as an alternative channel for disseminated validated information regarding the pandemic. To make work, the application is integrated with the social media platforms to make them accessible to users by default. Lastly, making it interactive allows for people to make inquiries and clarifications to prevent them from seeking rumors from the social networks.
Al-Zaman, S. (2021). COVID-19-related social media fake news in India. Journalism and Media, 2(1), 100-114. Web.
Duraisamy, B., Rathinaswamy, J., & Sengottaiyan, K. (2020). Social media reigned by information or misinformation about COVID-19: A phenomenological study. SSRN Electronic Journal, 9(3), 585-602. Web.
Niemiec, E. (2020). COVID‐19 and misinformation: Is censorship of social media a remedy to the spread of medical misinformation? EMBO Reports, 21, 1-4. Web.