Misinformation about vaccines is widely recognized as a motivator for vaccine hesitancy and anti-vax conspiracy theories. Both attitudes could hamper COVID-19 vaccine rollouts across the country, and the government is very aware of the risk: Ottawa plans to invest $64 million in education campaigns to fight vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
Misinformation can range from unwarranted suspicions about what vaccines are made of to claims that taking vaccines can cause infertility. Social media platforms are a major source of this misinformation — and companies are very aware of it.
On March 1, Twitter introduced a new labelling policy to alert users about misinformation and a strike system that would lock users out of the app if they repeatedly violate the company’s COVID-19 policy. Facebook and Instagram already announced a blanket ban on vaccine misinformation last month.
Vaccine misinformation on social media predates the pandemic. In 2016, information about an illegal vaccine distribution network that administered unrefrigerated or expired vaccines in China’s Shandong province spread on social media, which led to a 43.7 per cent decrease in the willingness of parents to vaccinate their children. Most of the people surveyed had learned about the story exclusively through social media.
How social media platforms shape beliefs and attitudes
To understand the roots of the vaccine misinformation problem, one has to understand how social media algorithms recommend content to users in the first place.
Social media allows anyone to share information. This is its primary strength, but it can also be a weakness when that information is unchecked, unverified, or unedited. Social media feeds can become catalysts for misinformation and a lack of trust in public officials. They have the power to change the minds of individuals on many different subjects, primarily through repeated suggestions of the same ideas.
Algorithms on Facebook and Twitter push accounts that users interact with the most to the top of their feeds. As posts or tweets become more popular, they are amplified and spread to more users. When these posts confirm existing biases those users may have, misinformation may spread. For example, those who are borderline questioning vaccine safety and efficacy might interact with a few posts that question the efficiency of vaccines, and then encounter even more similar posts due to the algorithm.
Misinformation researchers Claire Wardle and Eric Singerman wrote in the British Medical Journal that while Facebook, Twitter, and Google have “stated that they will take more action against false and misleading information,” it’s the personal stories and anecdotes on their platforms — which they are not controlling — that are potentially detrimental to users’ collective understanding of vaccine safety, necessity, and efficiency.
The duo also highlights the complexity of the situation: people accuse censorship of being a violation of freedom of speech, but at the same time, there is still an argument for platforms removing posts that spread misinformation entirely.
Closer to home, Deena Abul-Fottouh, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Information, researches the impacts social media networks have on their users. A recent paper she co-wrote with researchers from U of T and Ryerson University analyzes how YouTube handles vaccine misinformation.
The YouTube algorithm is built on homophily — the belief that “like-minded individuals… tend to act in a similar way” — in that it pushes content that users already find interesting or of priority onto other users who are judged to have similar tastes. According to the study, this creates a filter bubble, “which occurs when a recommender system makes assumptions of user preferences based on prior collected information about that user, making it less likely that the user would be exposed to diverse perspectives.”
How are social media companies responding to misinformation?
Facebook and Twitter began to take steps to prevent the spread of health misinformation in 2018. These were small measures, such as the addition of educational pop-ups and the suppression of false claims that were deemed threatening. Meanwhile, Pinterest changed its settings so that the search term “vaccines’” would only yield information from reliable sources such as the World Health Organization.
However, social media companies are still under increased pressure from governments, the public, and health authorities to alter their policies regarding public health. Following new guidelines, Facebook has been removing posts that include any false information regarding the vaccines, as well as adding labels to posts that need clarification.
Wardle and Singerman describe these measures as positive but still insufficient, relying on tackling individual instances of misinformation rather than the larger psychological effects of suspicion and fear they generate. The research sums up, “What’s required is more innovative, agile responses that go beyond the simple questions of whether to simply remove, demote, or label.”
YouTube has also made changes to its policies and is now more likely to recommend pro-vaccine videos. But Abul-Fottouh and her colleagues wrote that the “filter bubble” effect is still prevalent and that those who engage with anti-vaccine content will be on the receiving end of more anti-vaccine content.
Are You Missing Life’s Moments Because of Social Media?
Recently my wife and I watched the movie Before Sunrise , starring Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine. While travelling on a Eurail train from Budapest, Jesse, an American, sees Celine, who’s French. It’s Jesse’s last day in Europe before returning to the US. Jesse strikes up a conversation with Celine, and they disembark in Vienna to spend the night wandering Austria’s capital city.
Summary: Before Sunrise is a back-and-forth conversation between a romantic [Celine] and a cynic [Jesse].
During the closing credits, I turned to my wife and said, “That wouldn’t have happened today. Jessie and Celine would have been staring at their respective smartphone throughout the train ride, which in 2021 would have free Wi-Fi, not noticing the passing scenery, their fellow passengers or each other, let alone start a conservation.”
How much of real life are we trading to participate in the digital world?
I have this problem; actually, it’s more of an addiction I need to keep in check constantly. I suffer from FOMO [Fear of Missing Out].
You’ve probably heard of FOMO. Odds are you suffer from it to a degree. FOMO is that uneasy feeling you get when you feel other people might be having a good time without you, or worst, living a better life than you. FOMO is why social media participation is as high as it is. FOMO is why you perpetually refresh your social media feeds, so you don’t feel left out—so that you can compare your life. FOMO is what makes social media the dopamine machine it is.
FOMO has become an issue, especially for those under 40. More and more people choose to scroll mindlessly through their social media feeds regardless of whether they’re commuting on public transit, having dinner in a restaurant, or at a sports event. Saying “yes” to the digital world and “no” to real life is now common.
Your soulmate could be sitting a few seats over on the bus (or Eurail train), or at the diner counter, or in the doctor’s waiting room. However, you’re checking your social media to see if Bob’s vacationing in Aruba with Scarlett or if Farid got the new job and may now be making more money than you. Likely, your potential soulmate is probably doing the same.
Look around. Everyone is looking down at the screen in their hand, not up at each other.
We all know Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, et al. [even LinkedIn] doesn’t provide a very well-rounded picture of people’s lives. Most of what people post is cherry-picked to elicit self-affirming responses, such as likes, thumbs-up and hand-clapping emojis, retweets, shares, and those coveted comments of “Congratulations!”, “Way to go!”, “You’re awesome!”, “Looking good!”
The Internet, especially its social media aspect, equates to “Look at me!”
Sometimes I wonder, if bragging and showing off were banned on social media sites, how much would posts decrease?
“Stop paying so much attention to how others around you are doing” was easy advice to follow pre-Internet (the late 90s). Back in the day, it would be only through the grapevine you were a part of that you found out if Bob was in Aruba with Scarlett and that be without pictures. Evidence of how others are doing, strangers included, is pervasive because undeniably, most of us care about status. In 2021 how people are doing is in the palm of our hands, so we tend to give more time to the device we’re holding at the cost of neglecting the real-life happenings within our immediate surroundings.
Social media has made us a restless, anxious bunch underappreciating the present moment. With lockdown restrictions lifting and more social activities taking place, people will be hunkering down on their smartphones more than before to see what others are doing. They’ll see the BBQ they weren’t invited to or people they consider to be friends having a few laughs on the local pub’s patio or camping or at the beach without them. Loneliness, questioning self-worth, depression will be the result.
Trading engaging with those around you to feed your FOMO angst is what we’ve come down to. In my opinion, Guildwood is the GTA’s most walkable neighbourhood. You can choose to take walks around Guildwood, getting exercise, meeting people or stay addicted to the FOMO distress social media is causing you.
Instead of catching up with an old friend or colleague in person over lunch, coffee, or a walk in Guild Park & Gardens, people prefer to text or message each other on social media platforms eliminating face-to-face interactions. Instead of trying to reconnect with old friends verbally, people would rather sit at home with their technology devices and learn what their friends are up to through social media platforms, thus the start of a slippery slope towards anti-social behaviour.
Social media’s irony is it has made us much less social. How Jesse and Celine meet [you’ll have to see the movie] and the resulting in-depth conversation they have as they gradually open up to each other, thus beginning a postmodern romance wouldn’t have happened today. They’d be too preoccupied with their smartphones feeding their FOMO addiction to notice each other.
Social media will always nudge you to give it attention, but that doesn’t mean you have to oblige. Take it from me; there’s more to be had in enjoying life’s moments outside of social media.
Nick Kossovan is the Customer Service Professionals Network’s Director of Social Media (Executive Board Member). You can reach Nick at email@example.com and him on Instagram and Twitter @NKossovan.
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck pictured kissing as ‘Bennifer’ returns
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have been pictured exchanging passionate kisses, apparently confirming weeks of fevered rumors that they have rekindled a romance that dominated celebrity media almost 20 years ago.
Paparazzi photos printed in the New York Post on Monday showed the two actors kissing while enjoying a meal with members of Lopez’s family at Malibu’s posh Nobu sushi restaurant west of Los Angeles on Sunday.
Representatives for Lopez, 51, declined to comment on Monday, while Affleck’s publicists did not return a request for comment.
Lopez and “Argo” director Affleck, dubbed “Bennifer,” became the most talked about couple in the celebrity world in the early 2000s in a romance marked by his-and-her luxury cars and a large 6.1-carat pink diamond engagement ring. They abruptly called off their wedding in 2003 and split up a few months later.
The pair have been pictured together several times in Los Angels and Miami in recent weeks, after Lopez and her former baseball player fiance Alex Rodriguez called off their engagement in mid-April after four years together. Monday’s photos were the first in which Lopez and Affleck were seen kissing this time around.
Celebrity outlet E! News quoted an unidentified source last week as saying Lopez was planning to move from Miami to Los Angeles to spend more time with Affleck, 48, and was looking for schools for her 13-year-old twins Max and Emme.
Max and Emme, along with the singer’s sister Lydia, were also photographed walking into the restaurant in Malibu on Sunday.
Lopez married Latin singer Marc Anthony, her third husband, just five months after her 2004 split with Affleck. Affleck went on to marry, and later was divorced from, actress Jennifer Garner.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
TikTok debuts new voice after Canadian actor sues
After noticing a new female voice narrating the videos on , users of TikTok were baffled as to why. It actually turns out that the Canadian actress behind the old voice filed a lawsuit against the platform for copyright violation as her voice was apparently being used without her permission.
Bev Standing, , is taking China-based ByteDance to court. TikTok’s parent company has since replaced her voice with a new one, with Standing reportedly finding out over email after a tip-off from a journalist. On the matter, Standing said: “They replaced me with another voice. I am so overwhelmed by this whole thing. I’m stumbling for words because I just don’t know what to say.”
TikTok is said to be considering a settlement for Standing outside of the courts, but nobody knows whether or not this is true. According to legal experts, the fact TikTok now has a new voice on the popular social media app suggests they acknowledge Standing’s case and potentially understand that she may have suffered as a result of the company’s actions.
Thanks to the emergence of the powerful smartphone devices of today, alongside taking high-quality images for Instagram, getting lost down YouTube wormholes, and , people are turning to relatively new platforms like TikTok. The service has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s iOS App Store. This latest news could harm the platforms future, although many of its younger users potentially aren’t aware that this type of scenario is unfolding.
For Bev Standing, the ordeal is a testing one. She wasn’t informed of the voice change, there is no mention of it in TikTok’s newsroom online, and the development is news to her lawyer also.
This all comes after her case was filed in a New York State court in early May after the voice actor noticed a computer-generated version of her voice had been seen and listened to around the world since 2020. Speculation is rife as to how TikTok managed to obtain the recordings but Standing believes the company acquired them from a project she took part in for the Chinese government in 2018.
The Institute of Acoustics in China reportedly promised her that all of the material she would be recording would be used solely for translation, but they eventually fell into the hands of TikTok and have since been altered and then exposed to a global audience.
According to Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and an expert in copyright law, the fact that the hugely popular social media platform has now changed Standing’s voice could result in a positive outcome for the distraught voice actor. She said: “It’s a positive step in the way that they are mitigating their damages. And when you’re mitigating, you’re acknowledging that we did something wrong, and you’re trying to make things better.”
When assessing social media etiquette and how both companies and users should act, this type of news can only do more harm than good. Not only does it make the company look bad, but it could have an effect on revenues and, ultimately, TikTok’s reputation.
With a clear desire to move on and put this whole process behind her, Bev Standing is eager for the case to be resolved and get back to the daily work she loves and has been doing for a large part of her life. TikTok has until July 7 to respond to her claim.