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Misinformation: The Most Potent Weapon of the Modern Age

Mohammad Yasir is a published author who likes to write about sciences, social issues, and various other topics relevant in today's world.

Introduction

I daresay a successful estimate of the number of websites that cater to this world’s fact-checking needs is impossible at best. While most may consider this a positive sign, I intend to disagree. To me, the very fact that we have arrived at a stage where these websites are not only important, but essential for society to function is a worrying sign. I see their commendable efforts and I am happy for a moment. And yet, these efforts are infinitesimal compared to how much propaganda has been scattered across the fabric of our time.

A graph showing responses to the European Union survey on fake news.

A graph showing responses to the European Union survey on fake news.

Misinformation Affects Everyone

The effects of misinformation are remarkably hidden and yet painfully evident in our society. As a member of a minority religion, I have personally seen them and felt them. As have so many others. But my story is still being written. There are those who have already reached the end of theirs and it pains me to say that very few of these finales have been even remotely pleasant. Those that wish for their agenda of hatred to prosper have no qualms about justifying their means in any way possible. In fact, once their desire for candor is out of the picture, justification does not matter for them anymore.

Across the world, thousands have fallen victim to misinformation in various ways. Daughters have told tales of fathers having zero faith in vaccines and succumbing to potent diseases, while mothers have shed tears for sons that fell prey to mobs fueled by fake news.

Spreading Misinformation Has Become Dangerously Easy

All it takes is a click of a button and off goes a WhatsApp broadcast to every single contact in someone’s phone book. A little tap on the screen and tweets that can fracture the strongest bonds are made. One social media post is enough to wreck from hundreds to tens of thousands of families.

It is likely that each of my readers is guilty of falling prey to this human tendency. If one comes across a post that claims Mr. XYZ was responsible for some inhumane act, one acts in return. The desire for vengeance springs to the surface and one immediately forwards it to as many people as possible so that Mr. XYZ can be quickly brought to justice. There is a bonus haste in one’s actions if the alleged targets of Mr. XYZ’s heinous acts belong to one’s own community.

Upon seeing posts like these, we tend to act out of rage, and decisions made in anger have enormous consequences. Each of our actions sends ripples across time and when fueled by fury, these ripples have the power to truly wreak havoc.

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Further, I have personally seen WhatsApp forwards by people that claim the Covid-19 virus to be nothing more than a conspiracy. These people then refuse to get the vaccine and if this goes on, how will we ever be rid of such a deadly disease?

People in Power Are Most Guilty

Forces that thrive off a dearth of humanity are making full use of the ease with which lies can be spread. For example, leaders of various governments and owners of various corporate empires have often denied climate change. A certain person once had the guts to say, and I quote:

“The climate isn’t changing. Our resilience to the weather is declining.”

The fossil fuel industry is most threatened by people’s desire for sustainable alternatives. Thus, these leaders and owners have strived to make everyone believe that climate change is the common man’s fault. And yet, on a nine-seater private jet from Rome to Glasgow, each occupant would be responsible for an average of 1.2T of CO2 emission.

Similarly, people protesting some government policy can be easily locked up once a false digital trail leading to outrageous crimes is traced back to them. And news of such ties between protestors and terrorism spreads like wildfire. Before long, the entire population is made to believe that the protest was nothing but a conspiracy against the people. Thousands of innocent people can them be thrown in jail.

Role of Social Media

The power that these giant conglomerates hold over the information we consume every day is frightening. With net worth and incomes far surpassing the total wealth of several countries, these empires are more powerful than anything we have come across in history. Facebook easily has more information on most citizens of a country than its government. It’s time we tackled the dangers associated with such entities. Their ability to influence our world is unparalleled and unprecedented and these platforms are the worst spreaders of misinformation.

Can Something Be Done?

I confess that considering how many forces are trying to turn misinformation into the truth, options might seem bleak. Ours is no longer the ability to fully stop these people. Rather, ours is the compulsion and the duty to check the veracity of any claim before we let anyone else come across it. If you are on social media, always report things you know to be false and try to confirm posts you are unsure of.

We must also educate ourselves. While it would be wrong to say that educated people do not fall prey to dubious ideas, being knowledgeable about a topic beforehand certainly helps in evaluating how true something could be.

© 2022 Mohammad Yasir

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