How did Social Media react in March 2020?

Let’s have a quick look at what got attention in March, 2020.

The Hashtag Generation team has been monitoring social media for a while and there has rarely been a dull day!

While social media is limited to the digital space, we believe that its impacts can have an effect on life much beyond the digital screen. Everyday, we see false news, hate speech and also harassment on social media increasing and these result in adverse outcomes in the larger society, beyond the digital world. 

We are sharing some trends and patterns that we have observed over time.

We hope these will help you to better evaluate the kind of information that you recieve, consume and share. 

In the current context, we believe that the second most important thing to do right now is to not create or share any form of misinformation. First of course is to follow medical guidance by staying at home etc.

Also checkout our 10 tips on ‘Busting Fake News in the Age of COVID 19’ here

We have categorized the types of disinformation content that we’ve been seeing on social media as follows 

  1. Miracle cures and “Immunity boosters”

There were multiple posts on miracle cures for the Covid-19 virus, Many of these are indigenous medicinal treatments. While some of them are things like coriander and ginger which many Sri Lankans are familiar with. Some are completely unheard of, for some of us. You might remember that in February, a 33 year old young man died after he drank a concoction made by blending leaves of a poisonous plant based on advice on social media.

The important point to make here is that some of these “treatments” could even be harmful for human consumption.

Our advice is to always follow the advice given by credible sources such as the Health Promotion Bureau and the World Health Organization. 

Here are some links where you can reach them: 

https://www.who.int/srilanka/covid-19

https://www.facebook.com/WHOSriLanka/

https://www.hpb.health.gov.lk/en

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

  1. False “news” reports

There have been a number of false “news” reports circulating via social media platforms and messaging apps. While most of them may provoke you to hit the share button they may not necessarily be true. Sometimes even politicians share these stories. There was false information shared with regard to patients who have contracted Corona, on covid related deaths and also matters relating to State responses to Covid-19. These reports could have had various (political/ economic) motives behind them. Some are just click baits, because on the internet, more clicks = more money. With the elections being announced we saw a lot of posts targeting popular politicians. Some of the posts even attributed different statements to politicians who had never even made them. Be sceptical of anything you see, especially if you’re not seeing it on the verified page of that individual.

  1. Hate Speech

We observed a few waves of hate speech trending on social media. Initially there was xenophobic posts targeting people of Chinese and East Asian descent and then it was hurled at Sri Lankans returning from abroad, especially Italy. This was mainly due to a few incidents at the airport that went viral and few returnees having been tested positive with COVID 19. We also saw targeted harassment of individuals who were critical of the State’s response to Covid-19. Some of this content was very sexualized and gendered.  There was also some derogatory speech targeting authorities and law enforcement officials. The latest wave of hate speech we observed is that of islamoracism. One can be critical of public figures and institutions, but not blame a whole community, based on the action of a single individual. Be mindful of what you share. A glimpse back into the recent past would provide evidence as to how even subtle messages of hate can spread fear that could then escalate into violence.

  1. Misrepresented information

There is also a wide spread of mal-information that is going around. For instance, a statement made by the WHO which said Sri Lanka has one of the best healthcare systems in the world in 2018 was being circulated. While Sri Lanka has one of the best healthcare systems in the region, and the Secretary General of the WHO actually made such a statement, sharing something said in 2018, out of context, during a global pandemic can be misleading. There was a similar image of a ‘Dansala’ of vegetables in Tissamaharama during the curfew period.

We understand that an overload of information can be overwhelming and can stress you in a time that’s already confusing and stressful for all of us. We hope this quick read will help you consume information online more critically and cautiously.

By : Darshatha Gamage, Social Media Analyst, Hashtag Generation

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