Misinformation on social media is a huge menace today. And this menace gets magnified and develops hazardous proportions if it is misinformation related to the medical field. Infact experts say that with COVID 19, misinformation seems to be gaining a stronger foothold than anyone should be comfortable with.
"It is easier for misinformation to spread because COVID 19 is a new virus that we are still trying to understand," says Dr Ritu Saikia, who practices at a private hospital in Guwahati. So should we not then counteract medical misinformation floating around on social media actively and even vociferously where required?
You may be one of the many social media users who have chosen not to engage with their friends and family as they share misinformation about 'hot button' issues, (sensitive subjects) deciding that it is better to not ruffle feathers. However, experts say the same stance should not necessarily be taken when you encounter inaccurate information about COVID 19 or for that matter any subject pertaining to the medical domain.
Incidentally, Forbes has recently published an article urging readers to actively debunk the misinformation being shared about COVID 19 in their feeds. "Responding with correct information to false and sensational posts is a service to all," says Dr Saikia. "One, it does not give the writers the attention they seek (in terms of spreading misinformation) and two it saves time for everyone if they do not have to research it themselves."
One of the prime reasons people have shied away from sharing correct information on posts with misinformation in the past has been respect for their relationships with others.It can be embarrassing to be called out for sharing false information and no one wants to create an uncomfortable situation that may affect a friendship.
You may be one of the many social media users who have chosen not to engage with their friends and family as they share misinformation about 'hot button' issues, deciding that it is better to not ruffle feathers.So instead, people tend to just look away or even hide friends and family members who are frequent offenders rather than sharing links to reputable sources. However, allowing misinformation to spread could create a false sense of security regarding diseases. And that false sense of security has the potential to lead to more cases, overwhelming our healthcare system and costing more lives.
One must remember that here we are not talking about disagreeing politically. It is all about ensuring that false medical information does not have the chance to spread. This is a civic responsibility of every conscious and right thinking citizen. But that does not mean you have to confront misinformation in a way that ruins your relationships. Dr Saikia says that there are ways to share correct information respectfully.
"I would consider whether they (the offenders) want to believe/spread the information to further an agenda or whether they want to believe it to calm themselves down or to decrease stress," he observes. "If it is the first, I would try to provide links to correct information to help stop the spread of misinformation."
In this way, you may be able to prevent other people reading the thread from buying into the misinformation that is being shared. "If it is the second, I would ask questions instead. I would try to determine why they want to believe the information they are hearing. What is their motivation and what will they get out of it? Then try to provide the reassurance they are seeking using the more factually correct information," Saikia reasons.
In short when you understand where your friends and family are coming from with the misinformation they are sharing, you may be able to better figure out how to reach them without hurting feelings.