Dangers of media manipulation and misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic

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At a time when a handful of powerful global technology platforms are disrupting the traditional means of informing society, media manipulation and disinformation campaigns are challenging political and social institutions. Disinformation campaigns and fake news, often spread on social media, are increasingly a headache for businesses around the world. Technology companies are taking unprecedented steps to deal with the flood of coronavirus – related misinformation that is flooding social media, but potentially dangerous myths and conspiracy theories are still finding their way into public discourse. As policymakers become increasingly aware of the dangers of fake news, including the disinformation deliberately spread and cultivated by foreign adversaries, they are also increasingly concerned about its potential impact on public opinion. 

In a crisis like this, the public must be aware that malicious actors are trying to spread misinformation and disinformation. Whether it’s deep fake videos that distort information, robotic tweets, or social media posts that spread false narratives, there needs to be greater awareness of the dangers of disinformation and media manipulation, and of the role that the entire information ecosystem, from government to the media, must play in combating health-related defects – disinformation. In the face of cross-border attacks on public opinion, it remains difficult to define, detect, document, and expose disinformation or media manipulation, especially in the context of a political crisis. 

These formats of disinformation are familiar to social media users, and those who spread them do so with malicious intent. Disinformation experts say that while this work is important, journalists and news organizations should also call for reform of social media platforms and write stories about disinformation in a way that they are not only familiar with, but also fully aware of.

Without a robust local media ecosystem, social media will find it particularly difficult to moderate disinformation and misinformation locally. Managing the spread of misinformation is complex, underscoring the fine line that social media companies must tread if they are to move between communication platforms and fully assuming the role of arbitrator of free speech. They must reconcile the First Amendment right to free speech with the risk of spreading a disease that could kill people if adequate precautions are not taken. The social media platform should do more to reduce the harm it causes, starting with rapidly advancing coronavirus misinformation and disinformation. 

The social media giants will direct affected users to the most effective communication channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. As part of my work, I have created a database of COVID-19 related news and articles, what can be useful for journalists and future historians when they try to identify, track down and detect media manipulation and disinformation.

Various studies have shown that fact-checking labels and headlines presented on social media can help slow the spread of misinformation. New tools, including crowd intelligence’s detection of misinformation, can help social media and platforms eradicate misinformation and support public education. Eliminating misinformation can also help social media users collect and disseminate accurate information, helping them stay safe and reduce the risk to others. 

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