Covid-19 misinformation is spreading like wildfire on social media platforms, who must become much more proactive in removing conspiracy theories and shutting down any groups and pages spreading lies, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Louth Senator, John McGahon, who is Fine Gael’s Seanad spokesperson on Communications said: “The spread of misinformation online has increased dramatically throughout the pandemic. It is very easy for anyone doing some research to fall down the rabbit hole and become exposed to really dangerous content.
“I have seen evidence of blatant lies and misinformation in relation to Covid-19 and the lifesaving vaccines from a number of Facebook groups and pages in recent weeks. These groups and pages are raising false questions around the vaccines, engaging in scaremongering and seeking to undermine public health efforts against Covid-19.
“One group asks the question, ‘Could the Covid-19 jabs kill more than Covid-19?’. Another refers to the vaccines as ‘experimental’ and threatens doctors and nurses administering it that they will go on trial for war crimes. This is patently nonsense; all vaccines to be used in Ireland have been approved by the EMA having gone through large scale clinical trials.
“Many of the groups and pages are anti-mask. I’ve seen one page encouraging large groups of people to enter a shop without wearing masks thereby putting the retail staff at risk.
“Other pages question the existence of Covid-19 itself, and allege it was manmade. Some of the people involved are anarchists looking to disrupt societal order and undermine democracy. Many link their Covid theories to their other disturbing agendas which are grounded in racism, anti-immigration, anti-Semitism and the QAnon movement, including those who claim the pandemic is part of a plot by a ‘Satanic world government.’
“It is extremely worrying to think that people could stumble across these groups and pages while innocently researching Covid-19 and the vaccines, not realising the many disturbing agendas of the groups behind them.
“Facebook is already doing a lot of good work in terms of tackling the spread of online misinformation. For example they will now remove anything that suggests COVID-19 is manmade or that vaccines are toxic or cause autism, or that vaccines do not prevent disease. However, a lot of this misinformation was only removed after its existence was pointed out to Facebook.
“The social media companies must act faster and take a more proactive and robust approach to removing online conspiracy theories. This needs to happen quickly and efficiently to ensure that fewer and fewer people are exposed to misinformation.
“Like it or not, a lot of people believe what they see online. People are looking for any bit of hope they can get at the moment and so are more vulnerable and susceptible to the messages of these dangerous groups.
“There are far too many groups and pages online spreading lies. The people behind these groups have a clear agenda; it is an attempt to destabilise and undermine our public health advice. Social media companies must become much more proactive in combatting this. They have a duty to ensure what we see on their platforms is true and grounded in fact and science,” Senator McGahon concluded.