Let’s suppose that someone walked into our newspaper office and told us that he had a “big story,” the gist of which is that COVID-19 is a hoax.
Or that vaccines for the coronavirus are part of a plan by Bill Gates to inject Americans with microchips.
Or….insert any number of the other conspiracy theories about the virus and vaccinations that have been floating on social media platforms since the pandemic began.
The first thing we would do, as would any other responsible media organization, is to ask the person, “Where’s your proof?”
And if — and when — the person invariably would be unable to produce the evidence for his claims, we would politely show him the door.
That’s how journalism works. We try as best we can to provide facts and information to our readers, who then can make their own judgment about the issue at hand.
We don’t always get it right, but we try our best.
That is not the case however, with social media platforms. They do not even attempt to determine whether the information that gets distributed on their platforms is accurate.
The result is that the millions of Americans who have social media accounts are barraged daily with all kinds of misinformation on a host of subjects, of which the outright and preposterous lies about COVID-19 vaccines are only the latest example.
A private investigative group recently reported that 65% of the misinformation about the vaccines is attributable to just 12 individuals. The reason for that is simple: Thanks to the algorithms of social media platforms, the statements of these 12 persons literally can go viral (no pun intended) along the misinformation electronic superhighway.
To put it another way, the old adage often used by Winston Churchill, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” today is an understatement.
When President Joe Biden, speaking off-the-cuff in response to a reporter’s question last week, suggested that the lies about vaccines on social media platforms are killing Americans, he was not wrong.
Yes, the problem of vaccine misinformation is bigger than social media companies, but they unquestionably are responsible for spreading more misinformation to ordinary Americans about the vaccines than any other source. Our country is divided enough without the amplification of lies and misinformation that is being spread on the internet by social media. The virus, thanks to the Delta variant, tragically is spreading like wildfire across the country — and the social media platforms, which make billions of dollars thanks to their algorithms, are throwing gasoline on the flames.