STOP THE TRANSMISSION
01. GOING VIRAL
COVID-19 is not the only virus infecting our communities these days. During the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the spread of misinformation, disinformation, and hatred online. That should concern you, because, as we are observing all around us, dissemination of false and hateful information cheapens our public discourse, undermines our democracy, and endangers our most vulnerable.
Online disinformation and hate can – and does – translate into real-world violence.
The Jewish community is frequently the target of this hatred. Many cannot spell “conspiracy theory” without including the word “Jewish.” Yet antisemitic disinformation is not a problem for the Jewish community only. Antisemitic conspiracy theories thrive in dysfunctional societies and, once they are allowed to take root, they serve as a chilling and reliable predictor of serious challenges ahead for the community at large.
Fortunately, there is something You can do.
For the sake of our friends and families, for our democracy, for everything we value, we can all learn how to be responsible, discerning digital citizens and Stop the Transmission!
02. CHECK THE SYMPTOMS
Be wary of any purported “explanation” that contains these “symptoms” of a conspiracy theory: it alleges the existence of (1) a malicious group (2) acting in secret (3) to gain power or change institutions for their own advantage (4) in a way that negatively affects society in general.
[Adapted from Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent, American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford University Press) 2014, quoted in “Challenging Conspiracy Theories” p. 2]
Test your ideas: do they have the symptoms of a conspiracy?
03. WE’RE ALL AT RISK
We live in a time of crisis. That makes us susceptible to disinformation.
In the current climate, even thoughtful, well-meaning people can be susceptible to the deadly virus of disinformation. COVID-19 has increased isolation and fear, which are important contributors to this troubling rise in disinformation. Our society carries high levels of distrust in media, government, and other institutions, signaling a crisis in our democracy. Genuine dialogue is increasingly rare.
Research indicates that conspiracy theories often surface in times of social crisis. Our anxiety and desire for clarity and control tempt us to grasp at simple explanations, and bad actors can capitalize on this tendency to promote conspiracies. During COVID-19, our friends and neighbours from Asian communities have been especially unfairly targeted. And the Jewish community, once again, as during other pandemics, is also scapegoated.
In a time when so much is out of our control, we can decide to help Stop the Transmission!
Will you be part of the solution – or part of the problem?
On social media, the virus of disinformation spreads quickly and easily.
It’s not just the current health crisis that puts you at risk. The disinformation virus is especially deadly because asymptomatic super–spreaders are shaping your mind without your knowledge.
Social media invisibly and subconsciously shapes the way that you and each of us view the world. Social media algorithms are programmed to direct us toward more of the same type of content, creating a dangerous echo chamber. Someone who casually explores a conspiracy theory may be drawn deeper into the rabbit hole.
It’s easier to catch the virus of disinformation in certain “social bubbles,” making it important to ask yourself: “Who’s in my social media bubble? Am I getting my information from evidence-based sources?”
Don’t let yourself be fooled. Be aware of the threat of these hidden spreaders, and make sure your loved ones also realize the danger.
You can help Stop the Transmission by questioning before sharing.
Washing your hands won’t stop the virus of online hate, but there is a simple way you can help Stop the Transmission.
Before believing or sharing what you read online, trace the story’s contacts. Ask:
1. AUTHORITY: Who created this message / graphic, and what sources do they rely upon?
2. CORROBORATION: What do other news sites (across the spectrum) or fact-checkers say?
3. EVIDENCE: What evidence is provided? What evidence is missing?
4. PATTERN: Does this information have the “symptoms” of a conspiracy?
5. IMPACT: Who might be harmed by this message?
6. MOTIVATION: Why do I want to share this?
[Adapted from “Building Healthy Relationships with Media: A Parent’s Guide to Media Literacy” (p.1) and “Challenging Conspiracy Theories” (p. 6)]
As a responsible digital citizen, if you’re not sure, don’t share! Your misinformed sharing can contribute to the spread of someone else’s ill-intentioned disinformation.