Combating infodemic in a pandemic

We’ve all come across strangers on social media platforms parroting conspiracy theories in the comments section.

When they are people you don’t know, it is easy to dismiss them but when they are people you know and care about, addressing the issue becomes tricky.

About two weeks ago, I texted a friend to get his opinion on the government’s decision to extend the movement control order.

To my surprise, he began presenting an argument I simply could not agree with.

He believed that Covid-19 was a globally orchestrated move to control people and that a cult was somehow connected to this.

As a journalist, I am aware that I should hear all sides.

But I also have a responsibility to report information that has been verified, to the best of my ability.

He and I graduated from a university in the United Kingdom.

So, what led him down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories?

He’s not the only one to say whatever they felt was right in their opinion.

At the start of the pandemic, or “plandemic” as conspiracy theorists call it, a friend posted on her Facebook page that the Malaysian media had not been reporting on Covid-19.

I commented and pointed out to her that this was simply false.

If there’s one issue that was regularly covered by the media, it was Covid-19.

The next thing I knew, she blocked me.

When the first Covid-19 cases were being reported in Wuhan, China early last year, another ex-friend, a doctor, told me that “it’s just like the flu” and “the media has blown the issue out of proportion”.

A few weeks later, the virus reached our shores and the MCO was implemented in Malaysia.

Pandemic aside, infodemic is a concern we must also address and quickly.

Infodemic, as defined by Oxford English dictionary, is an excessive amount of information about a problem that is typically unreliable, spreads rapidly and makes a solution more difficult to achieve.

It’s crucial to understand how and why so much unreliable information can easily influence so many so quickly.

Is it the failure of our education system in instilling critical thinking among students?

Is it the fault of mainstream media, which rightly or wrongly, have been accused of being biased?

Perhaps it is one’s own fault for wanting to feel like they know something that others do not — a common trait among conspiracy theorists.

Or is it a combination of all of these factors and then some?

If my experiences are any indication, confronting these people is not the solution.

When their beliefs are challenged, they become defensive.

When presented with facts, instead of pausing to consider them, my ex-friends turned combative.

In Western countries, some beliefs and theories linked to certain cults have put a strain on family relationships and driven a wedge between communities.

Some have to decide whether to bite their tongue around loved ones who are conspiracy theorists to keep the peace or cut them off permanently.

For me, after trying to reason with a few ex-friends, I decided that enough was enough and that I needed to cut ties with them.

I firmly believe in free speech and that it’s important not to exist in an echo chamber. We must always explore countervailing views to help broaden our perspectives.

But I also believe that in order for that to happen, there needs to be a certain level of intellectual rigour that we must strive to stay above.

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Citycism , conspiracy theory


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