Social media misinformation, sources of truth, in this the time of our pandemic

A third of the world is now in some kind of lockdown

Let’s have a chat about misinformation. One of the most dangerous aspects of social media in our current state is that the information it is supplying, in the majority, is incorrect, and local social media groups are littered with bad advice and are quickly becoming a toxic cesspit of stressed people.

We’re going to have a look at what this means and where you can get good, clear, concise information about what is happening and where to go if you have questions. Now more than ever, having certainty and truth is critical.

Last night, a woman posted a question in the Wellington LIVE Facebook group. She wanted to know whether it was ok to take a short drive to her local park to walk her dog. Within an hour, over six hundred comments were posted that agreed this was ok, or asserted it was not allowed before it degenerated into the typical abuse and nonsense that social media seems to create.

It’s an excellent example of misinformation being propagated in an uncontrolled way across unregulated platforms that are not curated by experts. Frankly, the admin of that page and others would do well to disallow commentary and questions on these subjects, instead referring them to the correct sources of truth.

A quick scan across other local pages, and Twitter, and I found a raft of incorrect information. The temperature at which the virus is killed, whether it can be transferred by a pet, whether we can drive, the danger of petrol pump handles, and the origins of the virus itself.

Now, the driving issue was a good one. All social media lit up yesterday in an all-out war over whether you could drive for any reason other than essential (it’s still going on today.) The confusion was created by some different messaging from politicians versus the officials who are running this crisis. Officials said essential only, some politicians, including the Prime Minister, seemed to assert that if “you were keeping it local”, then it was ok, but you should exercise common sense.

Getting the answer to the question was annoyingly tricky. However, in yesterday’s 1pm stand-press conference the Police Commissioner answered the question after 20 twenty minutes and 30 seconds. You would have thought that this would have put the conversation to death on social media, but it continues to rage because people don’t check sources and believe themselves to be expert.

Incidentally, on the driving side, you are strongly encouraged to only drive for essential reasons, which have been clearly explained. However, you are (at this stage) allowed to drive locally, for example, if you want to take your dog to a park, emphasis on local. You can’t just go for a drive across the city or up the coast because you are bored. And, the police will stop you and ask what you are up to. Seriously, that’s just common sense.

But, I suspect that advice will change from yesterday, as the situation evolves, making it even more important to keep up to date with the latest instructions and advice.

So where on earth do you get useful information?

The Covid-19 official government website must be your first stop and if it doesn’t answer your questions, then write to them and ask. I would also check all posts on there for a date, so you know when the information was posted, because it can change daily.

My go-to first thing most mornings is Alex Brae’s Bulletin at The Spinoff. You can subscribe to it at that page, or here, as well, so it appears overnight like a digital newspaper in your email inbox. It’s a good boil down of the previous days’ news, curated professionally, with links to other reliable news sources across a range of daily topics.

Radio New Zealand must be your next go-to for national news; it’s reliable, updated frequently, and has a lot of in-depth information. Their live coverage has been excellent as well, with the Morning Report and Checkpoint teams covering off the beginning and end of the daily news.

The other two critical go-to daily briefings are happening at 1 pm and 3 pm most days from what I understand.

The first is the daily on numbers and includes an update by the Police Commissioner, Mike Bush.

The second is the daily from the Prime Minister.

Now, the easiest way to follow these I have found is via the Radio New Zealand YouTube channel, though if you have a preference for Facebook, you can find them live here.

There is a lot of excellent information in both briefings, and common questions also get asked and answered. At the other end of the day, Radio New Zealand Checkpoint, that also has an accompanying live video for most of the time.

From there you can branch out into other New Zealand news sites, though, the further you go the more you will find cherry-picked click-bait type articles. The Dominion Post is still providing some good local news and views, while Georgina Campbell at the NZ Herald is covering Wellington as well.

Wellington Scoop is a good place for opinion and formal press releases from various sources, linking out to Scoop itself, that has a lot more coverage.

I would strongly recommend you avoid Facebook Groups right now. Use Facebook as a way of keeping connected with family and friends, but treat all posts as incorrect until proven otherwise, even from your contacts. It is simply too easy to click and share without a second thought.

If you own a Wellington Facebook group, then you should be curating viciously right now. If it cannot be verified, do not allow it to be posted. If it is contentious and causing outbursts, delete it. Right now, you have a duty of care to make sure that information is correct, you took on the admin role, you have the responsibility.

There are significant issues internationally with runaway lousy information on social media, causing vast and life-threatening problems. Don’t let your group be the one that starts that here.

And remember, taking a break from all media for a day will help not hinder.

4 thoughts on “Social media misinformation, sources of truth, in this the time of our pandemic

  1. Awesome work Ian. As usual.

    Two things: First. Another great resource I have found, related to RNZ, is they offer an emailed daily CoVid-19 digest at 5.30pm. A Checkpoint initiative. I’ll forward you one.

    Second. Have you seen the Give a Little page for New World staff? Posted this morning on the Miramar community FB group. Give me strength!


    Dan Henry

    (Sent from my phone)

    On Fri, 27 Mar 2020, 10:12 am Inside Wellington, wrote:

    > Ian Apperley posted: ” A third of the world is now in some kind of > lockdown Let’s have a chat about misinformation. One of the most dangerous > aspects of social media in our current state is that the information it is > supplying, in the majority, is incorrect, and local s” >


  2. On wellington.scoop we curate all comments, and so we are able to keep out all the misinformation and abuse. Wellington Live and the other sites should be doing the same. Or else, as you say, they should be banning all comments.

    Liked by 1 person

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