Chinenye Anuforo [email protected]
Given the climate of uncertainty created by the rapid expansion of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, it is becoming increasingly relevant to know how we use the Internet on a daily basis to avoid getting influenced by all the fake news flying online.
Below are guides that can be helpful:
Guard aginst outrage
Even in normal times, outrage is your biggest risk of becoming vulnerable to online manipulation. It is easy to fire up, reaches deep into your sense of right and wrong, and usually spurs a reaction that makes people on the opposing social or political side outraged too.
Now that it’s easier to be angry than ever, the Internet is not a place to be outraged within.
We usually share online content when we feel like it, not when we think about it. The things that tend to fly around the Internet are those that sink hooks into our primordial psychologies. Miracle cures soar on the wings of forlorn hope. Empty shelves are propelled into the sight of millions by the panic that they cause. Raw emotion is not a good principle to determine what gets seen and what doesn’t, and simply slowing down allows the more considered and considerate parts of your thinking to kick in.
When it comes to actually learning about the world, remember: The Information that finds you isn’t necessarily the information you want to find.
Beware the passive scroll
What you see on your social media feed is curated by processes that can be gamed by malicious actors or mindless profiteers. It’s full of messages borne there through virtue of the raw emotion that they inspire. In the coming weeks, it will feel like an endless trudge through a sometimes uplifting, but more usually panicky place. Just thumbing your way through it is a bad strategy.
Use the Internet proactively
Make an effort to find what you want and whom you want. Forge trusted relationships and find the information you need online. But do so through a deliberate, conscious force of will. Remake your online lockdown life anew, don’t let it remake you.
Practice digital distancing
Even if you do all of these things, there’s a huge final hurdle to overcome. Even steering clear of disinformation and manipulation, immersing yourself in an entirely truthful world of death rates, ventilators and R0 scores can be harmful too. Rehearsing our own sense of personal helplessness towards something we cannot control every day will stoke feelings of fear and anxiety. Just as we practice social distancing, digital distancing will be necessary as well. Spend ten minutes a day catching up on what’s happening, but don’t let it become your entire day.
You might be reading all this, pitying those poor other people who fall for the miracle cures and the conspiracy theories. But there’s information out there that can harm you too, and – like everyone else – it won’t contradict your general view of the world. You are already immune to being contradicted. Yet, we’re at our most vulnerable not when our beliefs are being challenged but when they’re being confirmed. When we’re nodding our head, muttering “I always knew it,” that’s when we are in danger.
Above everything else is an eighth, golden rule: think about the information you consume as a diet. It has health consequences for you and people around you.