Coronavirus – An age of misinformation

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This article was written by CiConsulta’s GeoPolitical expert Matthew Bugeja appeared on the Diplomatique.Expert International Affairs eJournal.

This is being written because it needs to be said.

In 2016, we entered into a whole arena of misinformation. National elections at that time seemed to prove that appealing to people’s emotions, rather than basing your policies on facts or principles, would be enough to win elections and referendums. That was a worrying development, and some may debate whether we have lived like that in Malta all along as a result of the mass media environment we have gotten used to, dominated by political parties.

But developments in the past week or so have taken a whole new turn, to a level which I previously could not even begin to imagine. Within hours of the news breaking that the Coronavirus had reached northern Italy, and some reports of cases in Sicily, Maltese social media descended into what can only be described as absolute hysteria. This led to people flocking to their nearest supermarkets, and items flew off the shelves. Every supermarket in Malta was under siege, with the poor staff overwhelmed by the panic caused by the spread of misinformation, and perhaps, intentional firestoking by individuals for reasons unknown.

As some of you may, or may not know, several Coronavirus groups had been started up, with many assuming that this was in order to share information, updates and best practices on how to protect one’s self from the virus. However, within a short amount of time, it became apparent that those individuals who were running certain groups had no medical or scientific background whatsoever, and were rather promoting their own theories as to how the virus would impact society, markets, and the likely infections and death toll this would lead to. Many people never thought of checking the individual’s background, to determine whether this person was a good source of information. They thought “Well, this person started the group, so they must know what they are saying.” These opinions, which were taken as fact, were at least partially responsible for the hysteria we saw this week, which rivalled the bulk buying that occurred during the 1991 Gulf War. It is something historic, which we will not soon forget.

 

 

It is also something which goes to show our lack of maturity and critical thinking on the whole as a society, and how we are both incredibly susceptible to misinformation and ill-prepared for combating it as a society. We are not alone. Misinformation has unleashed havoc in a lot of Western societies in recent years, so we are certainly in good company.

How can we move forward from this? What am I proposing?

We need to consider revamping our entire way of approaching the internet. As a society, we have not evolved beyond the skills of the 20th century in many ways, despite our frequent and capable use of the new technological means made available to us like the internet, mobile phones, tablets, laptops and all the rest. Information is more widely accessible than it ever was in human history – but we have not evolved our critical thinking skills to rise to the occasion. We need to do so, urgently, and these critical thinking skills should be made a priority within our education system from an early age.

Or we can do nothing, in which case we will continue to fall prey to whoever is trying to sell us bogus information, leading to societal repercussions, potential injuries and deaths which are preventable, and general chaos within our tiny islands. Education is a tool. But it is also a weapon. It is time we put it to use.”

This article was written by CiConsulta’s GeoPolitical expert Matthew Bugeja appeared on the Diplomatique.Expert International Affairs eJournal.

 

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