Do Social Media Platforms Care About Covid Misinformation?

By: Anna Cox

Social media’s place in society has diversified over it’s 25 year existence, starting with the site Six Degrees in 1997. The initial purpose was for communication and business promotion, but now it can be used for a multitude of reasons. From using it as a career to just having it for entertainment purposes, social media is one of the most diverse media sources in the world. One of the main reasons that people use it is to stay up-to-date on local, national, and international news. In the midst of a global pandemic that has forever changed the way that international society functions, the coverage that it receives can send a troubling message. The COVID-19 pandemic has managed to become a controversial topic in some social settings, with the news often spreading harmful rhetoric about not only the details of the virus, but the validity of its existence. Social media sites have made an effort to convince their users that they fight hard against misinformation on their websites, but that does not appear to be the case in regards to the coronavirus pandemic.

Companies like Twitter and Facebook have a simple method of combating misinformation on their websites: they flag it. Facebook and Twitter will still allow their users to look at the misleading content, but will warn you about misinformation before being able to look at it. And, this seems like a simple and effective way to go about this because people are given the insight that the information on this post is misleading and to read at their own discretion. But, the issue with this method is that it still allows this content to be read by its users, and they may not think it’s misinformation. People who spread and believe Covid misinformation don’t trust big companies, as they view them as dishonest and not reliable. So, the efforts of Twitter and Facebook to “stop the spread of misinformation” are completely ineffective. Facebook provides a hub for anti-vaccination rhetoric and Twitter rarely ever flags accounts unless they have been reported. They claim that they care about this issue, with Twitter giving an information link whenever something related to Covid is searched, but that is not enough. If the misleading information is spread and engrained in people’s minds, they aren’t going to believe anything else, no matter how hard these sites try to backtrack. 

A popular figure who has been able to spread Covid misinformation and anti-vaccine rhetoric unscathed is Joe Rogan. In September 2021, Rogan announced to his audience that he had received a positive COVID-19 test. Getting diagnosed with Covid is not the issue though. The issue stands in the fact that he then continued to promote Ivermectin to his audience as a treatment for Covid and urged them away from getting vaccinated. Ivermectin is an antiparasitic compound and veterinary medicine that is mainly used as a horse dewormer. Rogan was defended and believed by his followers, who choose to believe in an idolized internet celebrity while doctors urged people not to use it as a treatment against COVID-19. Rogan also encouraged young people to not get vaccinated, claimed lockdowns made Covid worse, supported Alex Jones when he said that microchips were in the vaccine, falsely asserted that children don’t need to get the vaccine, and said that vaccine cards would turn the United States into a dictatorship. After all his baseless claims and fear mongering, Spotify is still continuing to promote him. Rogan provides the platform with its most popular podcasts, thus bringing in tons of revenue, but at what cost? Platforming lies about the legitimacy of the coronavirus is less risky to them than removing someone who has done nothing but lie on his podcast. And, although Spotify has no misinformation policy in their terms of service, they still have a responsibility to mitigate and dispel any harmful or misleading narratives that are told on their platforms.

Misinformation on the internet has and will always be an issue, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be combatted. Although once something is on the internet, it’s there forever, that doesn’t mean these companies should just give up when it comes to policies that stop this kind of information. COVID-19 only magnified the problem, and the misinformation in regards to the virus is way more harmful than tabloids lying about celebrities. Lying about Covid and its validity can only lead to people worsening the conditions, because if they don’t believe in it, they won’t take measures to keep themselves and others safe from it.

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