Misinformation On Social Media: Ebola
It's Not Only The Mainstream That Lie
Information spreads like wildfire on social media sites. It is one of its great strengths and one of its most crippling weaknesses. Something that can save lives if used to spread information that concerns the welfare of people, or it can be something that spreads panic and fear within the masses.
If you look at Twitter and Facebook today, it would appear that Ebola is everywhere, and it is ultimately coming for you at some point in the near future. Since the first diagnosis of Ebola in the United States on the 30th September, mentions of the deadly virus on Twitter went from 100 per minute to a whopping 6,000. Worried health officials have since tested potential cases in Newark, Washington D.C, and Miami Beach, but all came back negative. Again, if you search for Ebola, coupled with these locations, the results would suggest that the virus is running rampant in these cities.
The Department of Public Health in Iowa was forced to issue a statement rejecting rumours on social media that Ebola had arrived in the state. Even more worryingly there have been multiple posts declaring that Ebola can be spread through the air, water, or food. Claims such as these are false, and are clearly designed to make the reader anxious, and plant an apocalyptic seed in the psyche of the masses.
Research scientists have been interested in the way we communicate via social media, and they have found that when referring to the victims of the virus, they are named as the “infected.” The supposed pandemic is quickly mirroring that of a Walking Dead issue, and maybe it is the mainstream popular culture that ingrains these ideas into the minds of the culturally invested.
Preventing the spread of false information across the web, creates an analogy with the efforts to which experts are undertaking to prevent the spread of the virus itself. Infected social media users, who may have picked up dirty information from an inaccurate media report will then no doubt spread the information further across the internet, resulting in widespread panic and disruption. Ceren Budak, a researcher who studies online communications at Microsoft Research said: “We have millions and millions of people on these social networks […] Most of them in certain cases are not going to have reliable information, but they're still going to keep talking.”
Some researchers think that the problem lies in how people seek out their information these days, as almost a third of U.S adults get at least some of their news from Facebook. Sometimes these sources are totally unreliable, and often the information is coming directly from friends on Facebook and on this issue Budak adds: “When your friends say something to you, it’s not just the information itself,[…] It’s the fact that ‘Oh, he’s my friend and I trust him. Therefore I trust the piece of information.’”
There are so many news outlets battling for position on Twitter also, and the nature of the site enables information to spread rapidly, and a lot of this could be false. What does it say about the so-called ‘trusted’ media sources though? Fear mongering has been their forte for years, and people who spread misinformation on social networking sites are only following the lead of Murdoch’s empire.
Of course Ebola is a serious issue, and containing the virus is a tough task for those in charge, but what doesn't help is the plethora of false information on social media sites. It is panicking those who choose to believe it, and this will only cause unrest and social anxiety. With this problem outlined, maybe the research experts should now also take a look at the likes of Fox News who are also currently spreading panic in order to promote right-wing politics.
Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently a content writer at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF.
Misinformation On Social Media: Ebola Reviewed by Alex Smith on Friday, October 10, 2014 Rating: