COVID COMMS #31: Why we all need to act against anti-vax social media comments

Sweet Jehovah, a council in Scotland have done one of the most magnificent things I’ve seen in a long time.

If you missed it, Glasgow City Council announced that anti-vaxxers will be denied access to the council’s social media pages during the pandemic.

Why have they done this?

Because they see we’ve reached a critical point in the pandemic. An inoculation is near to deployment and we need people to be inoculated.

That quite simply is the path forward.

What’s standing in the way are people who believe a dangerous rainbow of falsehoods. That COVID-19 is a hoax, victims are acting, that it’s just flu, the figures are being gamed and it’s all a ruse by Big Pharma, Big Government and the Deep State to control what we are doing.

It is utter bollocks.

Not only is it utter bollocks but its utter bollocks that is killing people.

You can verify the list of claims if you’ve time. No, there’s no evidence mercury in the COVID-19 treatment is harmful. The recovery rate is not 99.97 per cent. Yes, lateral flow tests are accurate 99.68 per cent of the time. No, Bill Gates is not behind COVID-19

It goes on and on.

Many of the claims are so lurid that its tempting to dismiss them as the work of cranks who won’t be believed. The thing is something crankish left unchallenged takes root like weeds in a garden. Someone who gives credence to the idea the world is being run by elites in Hollywood who are at the centre of a child-trafficking ring has been elected to Congress.

In the UK, 30 per cent say they regularly saw misinformation 12-weeks into the pandemic, according to Ofcom data. More worryingly, Ofcom also say that 46 percent saw misinformation supporting anti-vaxx arguments as opposed to 23 per cent who saw counter statements. 

This stuff matters.

But freedom of speech?

A good test for freedom of speech is the US legal principle of shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded cinema. If someone does that there could be a stampede and people could be injured or worse.

Here, people are shouting ‘fire’ in a cinema.

What can the public sector do?

So, the minimum that the public sector can do is follow Glasgow City Council’s lead and be zero tolerance for misinformation that will harm people.

But as much as I love Glasgow’s stance, nine per cent of the city’s population like their city council’s page. 

Sure, the UK Government as well as devolved Governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales can drive an information campaign to explain with crystal clarity the procedures taken to test the safety of the vaccine. It can even run something against aniti-vaxxers. It could even pressure social media channels to take down accounts which promote such misinformation.

But that doesn’t fill al l the holes in the bucket.

Here’s a hole that needs filling: news sites’ comments

On the first COVID-19 story on the Glasgow Herald’s Facebook page there is someone scoffing at the idea that the virus is a problem.

Elsewhere, newspapers are looking to the pandemic for clicks. Masks, inoculations, victims. They’re all up for grabs. Let’s say the newspaper’s intetntions are honorable.

The comments sections on Facebook are not.

Balanced debate is stiffed by rancid comments.

Victims are mocked. Sufferers are pilloried. Anyone who disagrees are ‘Sheeple’. It is a filth that does the name of journalism no good. 

Worse than that, it will kill.

The biggest hole that needs filling is with newspapers and their failure to police their online comments.  

I get why their reporters may be not be entering into their pages with enthusiasm. There’s fewer of them. Comments are 24/7. Reporters can have a hard time from trolls online. It’s a cess pit. But in this life and death struggle newspaper executives need to act.

This is literally life or death.

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