As Politicians Are Still Looking To Destroy The Internet, Covid-19 Reminds Us Why Social Media Is Not Just Good, But Saving Lives

from the killing-it-might-kill-more-people dept

For all the fears and freak-outs over "disinformation" on social media, over the past few weeks Twitter, especially, has been an amazing source for getting accurate, thoughtful information regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and how to deal with it. It's a pretty stark contrast, in fact, between people who seemed to be paying attention to credible voices on social media, and who began "social distancing" sooner, and those who were getting their information from politicians and television (especially cable news) who seemed to wave off the dangers for way too long. That's not to say there hasn't been disinformation about Covid-19 online -- including some spread by politicians and crackpots. However, on the whole, social media has done what it does best: allowed credible, knowledgeable voices to rise to the top for many.

As Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason notes, COVID-19 Reminds Us: Social Media Is Good, Actually:

Social media have also been providing news from early outbreak zones across the globe, as users widely disseminate stories from foreign news outlets, statements from foreign leaders, and first-hand accounts from residents of affected areas abroad.

These snaphots helped give Americans a better sense of the scope of the threat posed by COVID-19 at a time when the messages coming from official channels were conflicting and confusing. They also illustrated the ways in which various social responses could play out—giving credence to calls here for "social distancing" and spurring measures to make room in medical facilities.

Around the U.S., communities still seem to be experiencing widely different reactions to the pandemic, with some areas seeing runs on grocery stores and empty streets while in others things look pretty normal. This will likely change rapidly, as more businesses close their doors voluntarily—and as more governments order them to close whether they want to or not. But for now, one thing that's been noticeable is how quickly the mood on Twitter, Reddit, etc. embraced voluntary social distancing, especially in comparison to the mood in the "real world."

The NY Times had a similar article, though with a bit more snarky a title, When Facebook Is More Trustworthy Than the President. Of course, Facebook is often more trustworthy than our current President, so that's not unique. But it is notable that during such a crisis, people are able to get much more reliable information via social media.

All through February and early March, the voices of doctors and nurses on social media provided a vital antidote to those of confused and complacent political leaders embodied by President Trump. Their voices carried credibility and urgency in a way the always-on crisis of cable news can’t. They fed and were fed by credible journalism. And they helped force the United States to reckon with the crisis.

After four years in which social media has been viewed as an antisocial force, the crisis is revealing something surprising, and a bit retro: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others can actually deliver on their old promise to democratize information and organize communities, and on their newer promise to drain the toxic information swamp.

Elsewhere, it's been noted that the first person to really spot the threat of Covid-19 was a blogger in Florida who tracks flu outbreaks (and, no, don't ask me why the Washington Post put this story in their "Lifestyle" section):

The news seemed so intriguing — and so potentially alarming — that Sharon Sanders stayed up almost until dawn on Dec. 31 to keep track of it.

From her home in Winter Haven, Fla., Sanders began compiling reports of public comments by health officials in China’s Hubei Province. The officials, Sanders reported on her blog, FluTrackers, had announced an outbreak of an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases, caused by a mysterious virus.

The disease apparently had spread among merchants in a seafood market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. “A number of people from hospitals in Wuhan said that the current cause is not clear,” read one of FluTrackers’ first, uncertain posts about the outbreak.

As you may or may not recall, this was the original promise of the internet. It would enable anyone to get their voices out there, and that could allow more viewpoints and perspectives. Of course, that also includes ill-informed people or those with malicious or chaotic intent to get their voices out there as well. And over the last few years it's felt that we've over-corrected on worrying about those people. But one key point that I think has become quite clear in the past few weeks is that for much of the public, the ability to parse through and determine who is credible and who is trustworthy, is a useful skill that still applies online, and has allowed many more people to inform themselves, rather than to mis-inform themselves.

Indeed, it appears that you'd receive a lot more misinformation just by watching the mainstream news acting as a stenographer for a President who is more concerned about how the crisis makes him look, than how it actually impacts the lives of everyone. Social media has always been a tool for getting voices heard -- and part of that means that we, the users of social media, are taking on some responsibility to sort out the good from the bad.

But, most importantly, the events of the last few weeks show the importance of enabling platforms where people can connect and share knowledge, and we shouldn't toss all of that in the gutter, as some in Congress are trying to do, just because there remain a small group of people pushing misinformation.

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Filed Under: covid-19, disinformation, internet, news, section 230, social media


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 11:03am

    …okay but Facebook and Twitter are still shitholes in general, though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 11:12am

    and we shouldn't toss all of that in the gutter, as some in Congress are trying to do, just because there remain a small group of people pushing misinformation.

    Politicians are such a small group, so is it any wonder that they want to destroy the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 11:26am

    the only reason politicians are destroying the internet is because too much information about them, too many of their dirty, underhanded deals and too many of the back handers they receive are made available for the world to read! those same politicians want to know everything about everyone apart from their 'friends and family' but cant bear the rest of us knowing. different story when it comes to us, though. we're not allowed to even consider having any secrets, cant do a job without the world and his wife knowing, mustn't do anything underhanded. if we do, we have to be caught, be convicted, sentenced and jailed for life plus a day, in case we get resurrected, while those two-faced, lying fuckers get away with anything!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 11:36am

    It doesn't matter what the topic is... Covid 19, Guns, Religion, who boinked who. ALL outlets spin/slant stories to reflect their perspective. Facebook, Twitter et all just have more sources ( users ) who input their perspective or repeat what so and so's 3rd cousins wife's girlfriends brothers momma said.

    Personal example. Girlfriend gets all her "news" from Facebook. Last night she exclaimed that the govt had a vaccine they has been using on cows for years but wouldn't release it to the "people".

    Yes Virginia there is bovine corona virus. There are several corona virus. This one is corona virus 19. NO cows do not have this corona virus, NO the vaccine/treatment for cows does not work on humans.

    Sometimes you just read both sides of the stupid and figure the truth is in the middle

    Post this on Facebook and see how it flys. "The Covid19 virus has been refined in the laboratory to target older humans. It is being spread by Millennials to reduce/eliminate Boomers"

    I'd do it myself but have never had a Facebook, Twitter, Snap or any other of that type account

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 12:03pm

    Authorities vs. citizens

    "how it actually impacts the lives of everyone."

    The government is the ultimate authority on vaccines, and citizens whose lives were ruined don't count, and should be shut up?

    But now, the impact of a virus, which may have escaped from an authoritarian govt. lab, all of a sudden impacts the lives of everyone, and govt. authorities don't count any more, and should put a lid on it?

    How does that work?

    .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 12:22pm

      a virus, which may have escaped from an authoritarian govt. lab

      [Citation. Motherfucking. Needed.]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 3:40pm

      Re: Authorities vs. citizens

      Bill Gates has tucked tail and run. Claims that Pirbright, funded by Gates has patent on milder coronavirus in an attempt to create VACCINE FOR ANIMALS. I laughed my ass off reading that. I immediately wondered if Gates has swamp land in Florida for sale cheap!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 17 Mar 2020 @ 3:50pm

        Re: Re: Authorities vs. citizens

        It seems you don't know that viruses can actually infect animals and there are many strains of corona, and some of them can readily infect cattle.

        So, keep laughing in your ignorance because for the rest of us, you are just another fool.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Cho Seung Hui, 17 Mar 2020 @ 12:10pm

    Social media shadowban

    Facebook is filtering priority about quarentine data, even from "news sources". Most punished are those related to telco industry, including techdirt and Arstechnica links.

    But worse is outside USA. Facebook started to silence critics to telco industry, even quoting official sources. I noticed with my own posts even when people shares massively (60 views when in other cases 300 peoplr see it).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 12:34pm

    Feed / Deadline / Blackout

    Some fun sci-fi that discusses the rise of social media, Mira Grant's Newsflesh series of post-zombie-apocalypse books describe a world in which old-guard news agencies no longer control the conversation of current events after they failed to take seriously a zombie outbreak. (Mira Grant = Seanan McGuire). Post apocalypse, everyone depends on their own eclectic selection of news blogs that are kept honest (or not) by reputation.

    The trilogy are Feed (2010), Deadline (2011) and Blackout. Grant's also written some short stories and spinoff novels (novellas?) about events in the same setting unrelated to the main story.

    It might be a good read right now. FOX News' dismissal of COVID-19, falling in line with Trump's early everything is fine messaging has caused some turn away from official government statements in favor of more eclectic but more reliable information sources. Granted, we currently have officials socializing in defiance, which risks natural consequences.

    Also of note, Grant gets into the biological nitty of how Kellis-Amberlee (the zombie virus) works and the precautions that have to be taken by society and the CDC in efforts to keep outbreaks contained. The homework Grant did is astounding and shown. It is the most believable zombie apocalypse I've encountered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 17 Mar 2020 @ 2:14pm

    Re: Facebook is often more trustworthy than our current Presiden

    But, but, Hillary!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 3:35pm

      Re: Re: Facebook is often more trustworthy than our current Pres

      FUCK FACEBOOK

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 17 Mar 2020 @ 3:52pm

        Re: Re: Re: Facebook is often more trustworthy than our current

        Are you really really sure you want to do that? You may contract something incurable...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 2:37am

          Re: Re: Re: Re: Facebook is often more trustworthy than our curr

          Obviously you spend too much time reading between the lines when its staring you right in the face!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 17 Mar 2020 @ 6:18pm

    Does The Good They Do Justify The Evil?

    They are still too powerful for anybody’s good. Should they be let off the hook just because they toss us a crumb every now and then?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chris Brown, 18 Mar 2020 @ 3:52am

    Social media sucks.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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