Like most people of my generation, I too have a fairly significant online presence. However, until recently I had no idea of the massive scaling effect of social media and its role in the spread of misinformation. Little did I know that health misinformation could have such a huge impact on our lives.
COVID-19 exposed me to a world that disseminated a lot of erroneous information in such a convincing manner that it became difficult to differentiate between what was actually true and what was being presented as the truth. The pandemic exposed us to a world of algorithmic bots, artificial intelligence and deep fakes that could convince us to believe what was presented as the truth, irrespective of its actuality.
Social media, in all its forms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, etc with more than 4.5 billion users around the world, became the biggest carrier of health misinformation. This affected not only our physical state, but also our mental and emotional well-being. The fight against health misinformation had begun and, like me, several around the world became a part of the fact-checking community.
Fact checkers strive to curb this malicious side of information dispersal, and work hard and fast to ensure that the correct information from authentic sources reaches the maximum number of individuals. They put in time and effort to ensure that inaccurate health information does not lead to the breakdown of social structure and prevalence of widespread paranoia. It’s an uphill task, but as Robert Collier said “success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out”.
For me, the community has been a source of consistent and reliable information; at times, providing the correct health inputs even before the misinformation made its way to our shores. My association with First Check has been a humbling one. I now appreciate that at least some part of my daily knowledge capture has a large network of individuals engaged in ensuring that correct data is made available from reliable sources. I applaud the people behind the hard work.
Although I accept that misinformation is here to stay as long as social media exists and thrives, I also know that the fact-checking warriors will be working hard to curb its spread. More power to the First Check community. May we keep thriving and increasing in numbers!
Dr Manisha Arora Pandit
Assistant Professor, University of Delhi, India