Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Web Secret 610: Coronavirus and Internet misinformation

In 2020, news travels at warp speed. Recently, I was at a craft fair with friends when one of them got an alert on her phone that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. In a matter of seconds, it seemed everyone knew. And news outlets continue to churn out "news" about the event.

Similarly, the Internet is propagating endless "information" about the Coronavirus epidemic. Everyone is concerned, but how does one manage that concern?

The Verge published "Everything you need to know about the coronavirus from China" on January 29 as a reality check. They have advised readers to be careful to vet their news sources, and have pointed to the CDC as reliable. They actually have a dedicated website

Another Verge posting asked "Misinformation about the Coronavirus is threatening to overwhelm tech platforms - Hoaxes are spreading quickly — are Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter up to the challenge?." (Quick answer: NO, they are not up to the task.)

In that article they wrote:
One result of a world in which everyone has more or less equal access to publishing tools has been what’s sometimes called an epistemic crisis: a scenario in which large groups of people muddle along with very different understandings of reality, undermining the ability of elected officials to govern. This might be particularly scary during a catastrophe, when citizens are relying upon their government for accurate and potentially life-saving information. If you can’t trust official government announcements — or you are misled into thinking that an official-sounding hoax is real — catastrophes might begin compounding upon one another.

The global outbreak of a coronavirus that originated in China has given us fresh reason to consider the downsides of an internet where social media posts are amplified by engagement-hungry algorithms, and vetted by fact-checkers only days later — if at all.
My advice: get your news from the most reliable news site and otherwise turn it off.

Not always easy to do.

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