Social media and Covid-19 | Daily News

Social media and Covid-19

The bad effects of Covid-19 are stressful. In the vast unsupervised spaces of social media, there is panic and pandemonium as oftentimes as there is real reflection on the effects of the pandemic. People are asked to be careful, and rightly so. But it’s not often that they are asked to use their social media accounts in a sober and responsible manner that will not enhance the burden of authorities, frontline workers and civic-conscious citizens trying to grapple with the virus.

Social media is a minefield of misinformation with regard to Covid-19, but that’s not all, as it is also a weapon that has been used by irresponsible users to name and identify Covid-19 victims.

Let it be clear that in the first place, there is no shame in contracting the disease. Anybody who has the misfortune of coming into contact with a carrier of the virus is susceptible to getting sick.

So theoretically, there would be no problem in identifying victims. It would be akin to saying somebody has caught a cold.

Unfortunately, in the real world of news, information and gossip, this is not how it works. Interlopers tend to be far too nosey and judgmental when it comes to discussing Covid-19 carriers. This is anathema to the expectation of good behaviour in a civilized society.

The problem is that though Sri Lankan society is by and large knowledgeable about these matters, there are certain fringe elements that are mischief makers and disruptors. These latter types especially operating in social media, tend to identify victims and also discuss their misfortune with glee. It is therefore best that they are not identified at all.

Consequences of identification unfortunately impacted the first identified victim from the cluster sourced to a privately owned garment manufacturer. Within minutes of news getting around that such a person had fallen victim to the virus, certain people online started gossiping about her, propounding various completely unfounded theories about how she contracted the disease.

This virus of useless prattle on social media is most unwelcome when society needs a climate in which people would be encouraged to consult medical advice if they suspect they have Covid-19 symptoms. Gossip however, keeps people closeted.

Irresponsible behaviour is on the other hand not limited to the mere spread of gossip about identified Covid-19 carriers. Exaggerated claims and rumours are spread that scare people into doing things that they normally would not do if they were not misinformed through social media platforms.

The result of errant elements running amok on social media is that those who try to do good and help through these platforms are threatened with losing their public space due to the ignorant behaviour of the offending parties. There are many good samaritans who use social media to provide for people who have to undergo hardships as a result of voluntary or enforced isolation from being exposed or being potentially exposed to the virus. These people need all the help they can get, and socially conscious folk in social media are a godsend.

But the few bad eggs that sully the social media are making it difficult for everyone including the victims and good samaritans. Sometimes, there is the absurd spectacle of those on certain online media platforms pointing fingers at those in conventional media for breach of media ethics in their reportage on Covid-19 victims. But often the finger pointers are themselves behaving badly. Sometimes, they spread blatant scare stories causing unnecessary panic, with the hope of scoring a few political points for a partisan cause.

Even some well-intentioned posts can be dangerous in the long term and it is best that health tips on Covid-19 prevention are not disseminated unless they come from official and authoritative sources. Some of this health advice may not be necessarily saying anything bad and should therefore pass muster, but even such sharing can have a damaging effect in the long run – because people are overloaded with information and do not know how to sift the useful from the pointless.

On the other hand, it’s a free country and a free flow of information should be allowed. The whole idea of social media is to allow useful information that for various reasons may not be released on more conventional media such as newspapers or TV.

It is a pity that sources that could be useful and enriching to people who know how to use such information gainfully are sometimes threatened with blanket censorship, because some irresponsible elements do not know how to respect boundaries in their social media niche. Not that there is any threat that Facebook or other platforms could be banned in the current context as there are no obvious violations as in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks.

But nobody should let things come to that. Social media is the useful tool that people never had when facing the Spanish flu or similar plagues in the past. Let’s not make a monster out of a friendly and useful utility.