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Social media helps Japan's ailing parents connect over schools' closure – The Japan Times

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recommendation that all elementary, junior high and high schools in Japan close through the end of their April spring break in order to prevent the spread of a new coronavirus caught nearly everyone in the country off guard when the news broke in late February. 

No demographic was perhaps more surprised than the parents of school-aged children. The suddenness of the announcement coupled with confusion over what exactly their school’s board of education would end up doing forced many to scramble. For some working families and single-parent households, this meant they needed to find alternative child care solutions in March or spend more time at home. 

Leave it to a Japanese mascot, Gunma-chan of Gunma Prefecture, to sum up the dilemma in a single tweet. The first photo in the post featured a picture of the horse-themed mascot frolicking in a field, accompanied by a caption that read, “How kids react to schools being closed.” In a second image, Gunma-chan cowers in a corner, which is supposedly “how parents react to schools being closed.”

Twitter and other social media platforms, however, have provided more than just relatable memes for parents. In the early days of the school closures, these platforms have given those suddenly forced to entertain children all day a steady stream of ideas courtesy of other adults or brands sensing an opportunity. 

It’s a nice counter to the more depressing side of the internet during the COVID-19 outbreak, which has seen price gouging over face masks and a steady stream of fake news. Here’s an example of the web actually helping people out in an unprecedented situation.

Many sites have started compiling resources that parents can use to help in taking care of their children during the day. BuzzFeed Japan not only extensively covered the initial days of school closures, it also provided a list of online education and entertainment services that families could turn to during this impromptu break. Impress Watch published something similar, albeit with more content devoted to physical spaces that are open for children.

One of the most frequent suggestions — one that’s certainly of interest to those who see a potential silver lining in the coronavirus outbreak — was platforms providing libraries of manga and anime free of charge during the break. Even established publishers such as Weekly Shonen Jump made their archives available. Besides being helpful, it points toward an embrace of digital content spurred on by COVID-19.

One of the best sources of advice came from other parents via a lengthy Twitter hashtag: #休校中におすすめの過ごし方 (kyūkō-chū ni osusume no sugoshikata). Posts under this hashtag include ideas on how to keep children occupied at home. Suggestions range from creating their own versions of KidZania and a “linguistic Olympics” activity involving a mix of languages to miniature arts and crafts. So many miniatures

Some parents used the hashtag as a way to show that they imparted household lessons to their children while they were home. Others showed off intricate homemade flower decorations they made together with their little ones. Matome sites compiled the best suggestions in an easy-to-read list. 

It’s a crowdsourced resource for easy-to-do activities between people impacted by the government’s surprise recommendation, while also being an outlet for parents to showcase their creativity.

Most surprising of all, however, is that businesses have also jumped on the bandwagon and not spoiled the fun. Rather than piggyback on the trend in the semi-ironic way so many U.S. social media accounts do, Japanese social media managers simply offered up suggestions relating to the products they sell. 

National Geographic Japan, for instance, shared a video showing how to turn melted ice cream into bread using a microwave. Candy company Jintan suggested children count how many sweets were in one bottle of its flagship offering. Games company Sega didn’t even offer a suggestion, it just linked to an article that did. The only slight wink came via the official Japanese account for film franchise “John Wick,” which suggested students over the age of 18 watch its hyper-violent (and hyper-entertaining) movies to stave off boredom. 

Part of the charm of such hashtags and relatable articles is how they remind parents that they aren’t alone in this challenge. The government’s call undoubtedly came as a shock, and that pushed many families into difficult situations requiring tough decisions. 

Social media, though, has not only given them ways to make sure the next few weeks pass a little easier, it also reminds users that thousands of people across the nation are trying to deal with the same issues. 

Online spaces can often feel lonely but, in this case, they’re helping users to connect, often via ideas based around arts and crafts.

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Social media both a blessing and a curse during coronavirus pandemic – KitchenerToday.com

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This article, written by S. Harris Ali, York University, Canada and Fuyuki Kurasawa, York University, Canada, originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished here with permission:

We are facing an unprecedented crisis of public understanding. Western digital corporations and social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Reddit) and their Chinese equivalents (WeChat, Weibo, Tencent and Toutiao) are at the heart of this crisis. These platforms act as facilitators and multipliers of COVID-19-related misinformation.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), noted that urgent measures must now be taken to address the “coronavirus infodemic.”

This infodemic compromises outbreak response and increases public confusion about who and what information sources to trust; generates fear and panic due to unverified rumours and exaggerated claims; and promotes xenophobic and racist forms of digital vigilantism and scapegoating.

Governments, public health authorities and digital corporations need to not only promote digital literacy, but combat ways in which the impact of social media may be spawning an irreversible post-truth age, even after the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates.

Misinformation during outbreaks

Misinformation has been pervasive in other recent large-scale outbreaks. In the 2018 elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, suspicions were raised when the ruling government cancelled national elections in Ebola-affected areas, eliminating opposition votes.

Rumours are a second form of misinformation. One popular conspiracy theory held that the virus was developed as a means to wage a biological war against China. In China, a rumour spread that bioweapons research in a Wuhan laboratory resulted in the genetic engineering of COVID-19 that was then released. Such rumours may have even jeopardized the working relationship between Western scientists and their Chinese counterparts searching for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Untrue, exaggerated and dubious medical claims and hoaxes are other common forms of misinformation. Various unproven natural and traditional remedies were proffered as cures to both Ebola and COVID-19, such as drinks that contained mint and spices like saffron and turmeric that spread in Iran through Twitter.

Influencing outbreak outcomes

During times of emergency and disaster, urgent questions arise and require immediate response. The problem is that officials don’t consistently provide the accurate information that’s required very quickly.

A post-truth society is one in which subjective opinions and unverified claims rival valid scientific and biomedical facts in their public influence. The need for evidence to support reasoned arguments becomes downplayed, while at the same time, the social norm concerning how and why people should be held accountable for what they say is weakened.

Scientists and other experts ultimately lose social legitimacy and authority in the eyes of the public because what they bring to the table is no longer valued.

When complex emergencies arise, public officials are cautious about making premature pronouncements, instead carefully crafting statements to ensure accuracy and avoid the pitfalls of misinterpretation and exaggeration. Somewhat paradoxically, this careful approach may also contribute to the formation of an information vacuum that rumours and falsehoods are all too ready to fill.

In the digital age, the time needed to analyze, assess and communicate information cannot compete with the instantaneous spreading of misinformation on social media platforms.

The impact of social media misinformation may be even more pronounced because of confirmation bias, the tendency to accept statements that reinforce our established views and to downplay statements that counter these views.

Misinformation & xenophobia

Racist content spread through social media may reinforce already pre-existing biases and prejudices. Xenophobic reactions that emerged during the 2003 SARS outbreaks in Toronto, amongst other cities, are being repeated during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s different now is how easily social media can fuel this behaviour. A particularly poignant illustration is a viral WeChat rumour that a particular Chinese restaurant in Canada employed someone with COVID-19 and that health officials had closed the restaurant. The restaurant lost 80 per cent of its revenue.

Social media also facilitates a form of prejudiced collective organizing that, similar to crowdsourcing, rapidly enlists a large number of people, yet does so on the basis of questionable claims and beliefs. An online petition compiled by 8,000 people north of Toronto demanded that the school board ban students whose family members had recently travelled to China from attending school.

The information vacuum

During the early stages of the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, people shared information about the outbreak through simple text messaging. Despite efforts by the government to not share information about the outbreak with the WHO, information about “atypical pneumonia” circulated widely.

With COVID-19, the Chinese state’s censorship of and control over online content created an information vacuum. Despite this, citizens have used social media to express veiled criticism of government mismanagement and lack of government accountability.

During the early stages of the outbreak, before the Chinese government was releasing any information, ophthalmologist Li Wenliang — a whistleblower for COVID-19 — posted messages on the spread of a SARS-like illness. As screenshots of his posts went viral, he was disciplined by local police for promoting “untrue speech.” Li died of complications from the virus on Feb. 7, 2020.

News of his death dominated Chinese social media, with a flurry of messages expressing grief as well as anger directed at the government. “Dr. Li Wenliang passed away” became the top search record on Weibo. State censors intervened to remove posts on Li’s death, but public outrage led to increased demands for free speech and greater information transparency from the government.

By contrast, as the outbreak intensifies, social media has taken on new and increased importance with the large-scale implementation of social distancing, quarantine measures and lockdowns of complete cities. Social media platforms have become a way to enable homebound people survive isolation and seek help, co-ordinate donations, entertain and socialize with each other.

Global communications

The frequency of disease outbreaks like the one we’re currently witnessing will increase, given the ways in which connections between human beings and nature continue to intensify.

Pandemics will require co-ordinated global response strategies. Digital corporations and social media platforms can and must be at the heart of these strategies, since their responses and willingness to collaborate with governments and public health officials will determine whether social media is viewed as a beneficial or pathological vector of pandemic response.

At present, it’s imperative to develop policies and mechanisms that address the digital creation and spread of misinformation about disease outbreaks. To do this will require that biomedical knowledge about pandemics be supplemented by expertise about their social, political and cultural underpinnings.

Without that understanding, efforts to contain COVID-19 will be hindered by “spreading unnecessary panic and confusion, and driving division, when solidarity and collaboration are key to saving lives and ending the health crisis.”

S. Harris Ali, Professor, Sociology, York University, Canada and Fuyuki Kurasawa, York Research Chair in Global Digital Citizenship, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University, Canada

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry fan clubs pop up on social media – Burnaby Now

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You may not have heard of her before this pandemic, but you definitely know her now.

Dr. Bonnie Henry is the provincial health officer who has been leading the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in BC. She has been delivering the sombre statistics during daily updates on the virus spread in the province, as well as providing instructions and answers on how to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

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She has accumulated a cult following of fans who are very happy to voice their appreciation for Henry’s work.

There are now Dr. Bonnie Henry Fan Clubs that have popped up on Facebook and Twitter, that allow users to post and share how much they appreciate Dr. Henry and all of her work. The fan club Twitter account mostly posts updates when Henry is about to speak, or retweets posts from the public on their various thoughts about the health officer.

The Facebook group seems to be a little more on the wild side, pondering everything from Dr. Henry’s age to her relationship status. But nevertheless, every post in the group is steadfastly behind the provincial health officer, and everything she has done to keep the public informed.

Click here for original article.

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Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert – Campbell River Mirror

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Amidst time of crisis, people around the world are in a hurry to find accurate information, but sometimes it’s not always there.

In times like these before technology, people around the would flood to a trusted news source to get the latest information. Now, even legacy news sources, mass media institutions that predominated the Information Age, are using social media to reach their readers.

A B.C. expert in communications is warning the public to check their sources and ensure what they’re reading is accurate, to help reduce the spread of misinformation.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said professor and director of Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication, Peter Chow-White, in an interview March 18.

“It’s a (curse) because on the one hand there’s a lot of information out there, it’s hard to know – you have to sort of sift through a lot of it to figure out what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s real and what’s not.

“The blessing of social media is that the information gets delivered very quickly to our home, so we can react much faster than we normally would around these sorts of things.

Additionally, in order to navigate through crisis, he says the public needs to practice being information and media literate.

“It’s huge on the individual these days,” explained Chow-White.

“This is sort of a place where legacy news comes back into play and becomes more important than ever.”

READ MORE: Canadian coronavirus update: EI applications surge by 500,000, borders about to close

READ MORE: ‘Spreading rumours doesn’t do anyone any good’ re: COVID-19

With thousands of news sources and websites reporting on the pandemic, and some reporting on a crisis for the first time, the professor says the accuracy of information reaching people’s news feeds can be lost.

“It’s just not their traditional domain,” he said.

Social contagion, he explained, operates very similarly to viral contagion; there is a network effect, and social media amplifies this.

“It amplifies that (misinformation) and creates fear and panic in people’s minds without giving them the oportunity and the information to understand the context; how to mitiage that fear itself.

“In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable.”

Earlier this month, Black Press Media reported that an Interior Health medical officer condemed an article published by an Okanagan media outlet. The article included a “projected death” calculation that upwards of 5,800 people in the Okanagan could die from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The media outlet since issued a public apology.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Medical health officer condemns ‘alarmist’ article

Chow-White says since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, some information hasn’t been properly communicated.

“It would have been good to have messaging around – you don’t need a ton of toilet paper, and you don’t need it for two years. That’s a good case of how information gets delivered improperly and the narrative takes over instead of the science.”

READ MORE: Costco bans return of hoarded items, including toilet paper

READ MORE: Horgan ‘profoundly disappointed’ by panic buying

However he added, there are many benefits to society tackling a crisis during the Information Age, thanks in part to social media.

“Social media becomes critical in communication. People need to be able to go to Twitter and have the algorithms push the information that is most important and that is the most trustworthy,” said Chow-White.

“Even though people are managing their own feeds, Twitter and Facebook have a social responsibility in these moments as well.”

Social media companies have had to act quick in their response to misinformation but also access to facts since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

For Facebook, that includes banning ads that capitalize on fears, putting more funds into fact-checking resources to comb out the false claims about treatments, and removing all non-official COVID-19 accounts from Facebook and Instagram.

Twitter has pledged to relaunch its profile verification program to help identify authoritative voices in its attempt to ensure facts are being seen by users first and foremost.

Even Snapchat, which is used mainly by younger demographics, has added a dedicated section on its app for COVID-19 news.

Not a B.C. conversation, but a global one

Chow-White furthered that the current COVID-19 situation isn’t a B.C. conversation; it’s a global conversation which works at multiple levels. These include local, national and international levels.

Over the last month, several events have reinforced why Chow-White believes the internet is an uneven approach to following information by leadership, in the context of global information.

Referencing the topic of flattening the curve, moving from a mitigation strategy to a containment strategy, he says this wasn’t done particularly well in Canada, and especially B.C.

“An example of that is – the Ministry of Education on Friday (March 13) announced that there’s no reason to close schools – and it’s good to keep them open… completely contradicting what the rest of the world is doing.

“Ninety-six hours (later), they reverse into a 180.”

B.C. has been hosting afternoon news briefings on Monday to Friday and at noon on Saturday – streamed by all TV stations but also broadcasted live on the government’s social media channels. These briefings include a daily case count, any provincial orders delivered by B.C.’s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and a question-and-answer portion for reporters.

Such provincial orders have included a ban on large gatherings – initially for events with more than 250 attendees but which has since been lowered to 50 guests – shutting down bars an dnightclubs and banning dine-in guests at restaurants.

But the ban on gatherings has proven just how difficult it is to get messaging quickly to thousands of provincial citizens. Days after Henry announced the order, people were still spotted on social media hosting weddings and other events.

READ MORE: Weddings, big gatherings have to stop, B.C.’s COVID-19 doctor says

Henry has spent much of her daily briefings reminding the public that the ban may be on gatherings of more than 50, but that doesn’t mean that 45 attendees or even 20 or 10 makes anyone less at-risk of contracting the virus.

In fact, she has since urged people to stay indoors and if they go outside only go with the people you live with and in grous of no more than one or two – and most importantly, stay six feet apart.

The province unveiled this week that under the current state of emergency, bylaw officers are now being enabled to enforce government restrictions.

On Friday, March 27, Henry unveiled what she called ‘cautious optimism’ that the various contact restrictions had nearly halved the potential transmission.

That report sparked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remind the public that while “an excellent sign,” the news offered even more of a reason for people to continue listening to advice of health officials.

“If we are seeing a reduction in the spikes, then that shows it is working but that means we need to continue what we are doing,” he said.

Unevennes has since evened out, says expert

Canada, Chow-White explained, is among the third wave of areas hit, following Asia and Italy. Currently, the U.S. is dealing with the most cases in the world right now, as China has started to see a drastic reprieve.

Iran, he said, has been one of the hardest hit areas.

Last week pictures surfaced online of football-field sized mass graves, taken from space.

“If that was a first-world country, then we’d be a lot more panicked. But we tend to ignore these sorts of things in the global north, unfortunately. Not everybody mind you, but a lot of people,” he said.

“If there was some sort of connection between that and us, a little more force through the last week, we wouldn’t have people walking around outside right now, casually wondering why they can’t go out for St. Patty’s Day.

“I’m not trying to make light of it, I’m just trying to illustrate a lag and an unevenness.”

Thankfully, he said, that unevenness had since evened out. He says people are getting it, and they’re staying home.

READ MORE: Elderly Penticton couple reflect on leaving Philippines, entering self-quarantine

READ MORE: COVID-19: BC Parks to suspend camping, access to some facilities

@PentictonNews
editor@pentictonwesternnews.com

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