ANALYSIS: How to spot social media hoaxes during the Covid-19 pandemic
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19, no end of rumours and hoaxes have circulated on social media, from the Army taking to the streets to a global shortage of toilet paper!
Children and older people can be particularly susceptible to these pranks, causing unnecessary stress during these difficult times.
Many of us will have received the WhatsApp voice files that start off with the message saying “A friend of mine just told me …” before going on to predict all manner of outlandish scenarios that are coming in the next few days.
Earlier this week, the country was swept up in the ‘Covid-19 TikTok Challenge’ which claimed gangs of teenagers and young people were coughing on elderly people before posting the footage online.
And while there were incidences of offenders coughing on gardai and people out for a walk, few videos of the ‘Challenge’ actually appeared online.
They say the first casualty of war is truth, so in the war against Covid-19 it is imperative that we are mindful of sharing false information and only trusting reputable sources to keep up-to-date with developments.
Here, IT expert Niall Wrafter explains the psychology behind the hoaxes and how to spot one if it crosses your path …
Social media, by its nature will encourage conjecture, gossip, misinformation or just plain falsehoods. The reasons are simple to understand, people like to impress, people like to gossip and people like to help by passing on what they think will prevent harm.
Hoaxes and bogus messages have a perfect environment to propagate and thrive throughout social media messaging. A hoax is a prank, created for a mischievous purpose and sometimes simply for someone’s amusement. A bogus message is a falsehood, just plain wrong, but dramatic enough to encourage people to pass on to their friends particularly when someone adds “please share” to the end.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis began Whatsapp was loaded with hoaxes and bogus messages. The most famous of these was the “Martinelli” hoax …“If you know anyone using WhatsApp you might pass on this. An IT colleague has advised that a video comes out from WhatsApp called martinelli do not open it, it hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word.”
Your first instinct of course is to tell absolutely everyone you know of this instant threat. They will be incredibly grateful when you save their phone’s life won’t they ? However, the chances are that if such a threat did exist you would be probably been advised of it by the Gardai, or your phone company or phone manufacturer. When a product is recalled or a danger, there is an announcement by the manufacturer, you don’t hear it from your mate Dave on ‘whats-an-insta-chat’.
Since Covid-19 we have had many hoaxes and bogus messages. So how do you spot them ? One of the easiest ways is to simply go to the end of the message and if it says “spread the word” or “please forward” it is more than likely a hoax or bogus message. Most reference someone in authority without specifics such as a “Garda friend told me” or “a laboratory in Vienna” or the “French President”.
Some hoaxes and bogus messages, by mentioning a specific area like Dungarvan, Bray or Kilkenny City ensure they will move quicker throughout a community. They only survive however, because you forward them on.