What exactly happened this week with our public transit? Not sure either? Don’t feel bad, with all the rumours flying around it was hard to know the true story. While news outlets and reputable media houses kept us well updated, many people still turned to their social media timelines to catch up on the latest. The problem? Social media is basically the grapevine of the Internet.
And as with anything unstructured or rules averse, there were excesses. Those excesses forced Prime Minister Andrew Holness to call for firm action against “those persons who misused social media to create panic in the wake of [Monday night’s] incidents,” according to a Gleaner story. Such “misuse” these days is more often called fake news, or, as we know it, a big fat lie. Its purveyors do this to create confusion or fearmongering.
This week’s fearmongering had consequences. With public transport off the roads, there was a complete disruption of people’s lives. School and work attendance were affected, as was productivity. So, the Prime Minister’s response was not so extreme as some made it out to be. It was a responsible stance to suggest that people should be held accountable for sharing false or misleading information.
The apologists would say that people don’t always know if the information they’re sharing is true or false. The traditionalists would counter that there should be some kind of incentive for us to ensure that what we’re sharing online is true to limit the amount of false news on the Internet.
Social media can be a great way to get information. In emergencies and disasters, many people use these channels to communicate important developments and updates. Social media can be an easy way to let family and friends know your current status, in any situation. Social media this week was used beneficially to spread the news that the JCF was transporting students to school in the wake of the bus strikes.
The problem is that with so much of information flying around social media, most of it instant, there is little time for fact checking. Sometimes, it can be hard to know what’s real and what’s fake. Unfortunately, there are enough mischievous people whose intent it is to mislead and who find social media a perfect vehicle for that.
Perhaps the simple lesson in all this is that if you’re going to use social media to stay updated, be sure to double check that the information is correct before passing it along.