Social media: hero or villain in the fight against COVID-19?

Editorial

Social media: hero or villain in the fight against COVID-19?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

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The awesome explosion of social media, at one and the same time, has brought out the best and worst in human beings, exposing both the darker side and the sheer genius of humanity.

In the fight to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has now appeared in Jamaica, all citizens are empowered by social media to participate responsibly in their own safe health conduct and thereby help to protect themselves and the nation as a whole.

But alas! Far too many Jamaicans are revelling in the ability to use social media to spread fake news and information, often contradicting the protocol set out repeatedly by the public health agencies of the Government and international organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO).

A good example of how misleading information on social media can be is when recently it was said that Chinese infected with the virus were arriving illegally in Kingston by submarine, and that sailors from a ship docked in Kingston Harbour used a covered lifeboat to come ashore to purchase supplies.

We are by no means condemning all social media users. Valuable information generated from all over the world, showing how the virus is spreading and how some countries are fighting back, is being shared in real time.

Instagram , for example, has been used extensively to provide people with better, more relevant information from institutions like the WHO and national health ministries, with coronavirus information appearing at the top of Instagram feed in some countries.

Recognising that if you cannot control social media then join them, the Government of the United Kingdom (UK) has launched a new initiative to collaborate with YouTub e and other social media to help disseminate accurate information about COVID-19, and to counter harmful misinformation being shared online.

Commendably, the Jamaican health and wellness ministry has been using social media to disseminate information on I nstagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like to get to people, especially young people.

Information is also available on more trustworthy traditional media such as radio, television and print. This is important because many Jamaicans, some of whom do not have access to the Internet or cannot read, are wont to listen to traditional folklore, hungrily swallowing exaggerated claims about the efficacy of 'bush tea' and assorted concoctions.

Whereas folk medicine has many valuable curative 'bushes', many people do not know which bush to use for what and the correct dosage. The properties of many bushes are not always scientifically proven and may be nothing but a placebo. In any case, there is no known cure yet for COVID-19.

Those who cannot read should be encouraged to get information from credible sources, such as healthcare professionals, pharmacists, headmasters, police officers, or local government officials.

Interestingly, one of the great pluses for social media will be its invaluable ability to provide the means by which people will be able to socialise when they cannot gather in large numbers in public places.


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