Living in the time of fake news

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

As we prepared for another lockdown and everyone worried about what the next few weeks would hold, what we needed most of all was reliable news sources to help us understand the restrictions, what to expect, and what to prepare for.

Unfortunately getting reliable news in an age of social media and misinformation isn’t always the easiest thing to do. We see examples of this more and more every day.

Sadly, this is something that we are going to have to deal with moving forward, and something we need to mitigate. It’s harder for the masses to wade through conflicting news sources and discern which is real and which is fake. If they read something online, more often than not they are going to believe it to be true.

We saw this last week because fake news proliferated on social media that was linking vaccinations to ayuda. Because of this highly circulated rumor, people rushed to vaccine drive locations in droves, tossing social distancing caution to the wind just to be able to get their shots. These mass super spreader events are going to be a problem moving forward when it comes to containing the virus and the deadly new Delta variant.

After all, coming into close contact with hundreds of unvaccinated people outside of your home is the opposite of what the lockdown is trying to achieve. And the worst part is that we won’t even see the impact of these events for another few weeks. The Delta variant takes around five days to manifest. A lot of people won’t even notice immediately because the symptoms aren’t as stark and recognizable as the original COVID strain.

So all of those people who went to get vaccinated could potentially head home and infect their whole household and all the people they work with. This will cause a mass spread of the virus, which is what the quarantine was implemented to avoid. I guess we are going to have to wait and see what happens in the next few weeks.

Fake news has been an ongoing problem on social media, especially in the Philippines, where rumors spread like wildfire. Especially now coming into an election year. We are going to see more malicious fake news cropping up alongside rumors and honest mistakes that netizens share because they believe them to be true. Now, more than ever, we have to be careful when it comes to believing and ultimately sharing what we read online.

It’s understandably really tiring at this point. Alongside worrying about the new Delta variant, rising cases, and overflowing hospitals and COVID-19 wards, we also have to be careful about the news we receive and everything shared with us on social media. The best bet for people is to consume news from trusted sources and take everything else with a grain of salt until confirmed.

We aren’t going to make any progress on bringing our numbers down and bolstering our vaccination efforts if we aren’t on the same page and we can’t be on the same page if we all believe different things. Fortunately, the fake news from last week was corrected quickly, but the damage had already been done. By Friday, lines at vaccination sites were more manageable, and hopefully what happened on Thursday doesn’t happen again.

At the same time though, we can’t let this deter our vaccination efforts. Hopefully, more and more Filipinos understand that vaccination is still our best way forward. We have to carefully and safely keep the vaccination drive aggressive and moving. We all need to do our part and get vaccinated.

For now, we need to be extremely careful and focus on our families and our safety. We are into the first week of our lockdown, and even with these new strict regulations in place, we are still expecting to see case numbers rise. Things will get harder before they get better, but we can’t get discouraged because the only way to get through is to go through it. For now, we need to stay home, practice all of our safety protocols, and try our best to keep going.

*    *    *

Fake news is a big problem, but the issue that the news highlighted last week is also an issue of concern. People flocked to vaccination centers because they believed that vaccines were related to getting ayuda during the quarantine. While that turned out to be false, the throngs of worried citizens only highlight how many people are in need during these difficult times.

Now is the time to provide help to those who need it most. Our government can implement lockdown after lockdown, but they can’t leave people with no help. Especially now with jobs being affected and families finding it difficult to get necessities and put food on the table.

The harsh reality is that many Filipinos can’t afford to stay home because they need to find a way to earn to take care of their families. Hopefully, with the vaccine fake news having been sorted, the government can focus on what really matters and that’s how they will be providing help and ayuda to Filipinos during these difficult times.

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