5 Social Side-Effects Of Disinformation
It is not a well-kept secret that we're in an era ripe with the trappings of digital-isolation. While some argue that we're actually closer than ever -- being able to keep in contact with folks scattered across the globe -- the quality of these interactions is less than those of the in-person kind. There's something magical about that face-to-face interaction with our fellow human beings.
More to the point -- people are left craving a sense of community and belonging. There is a void that has developed as part of our new social dynamic, and that void has further expanded as a result of the first act of a medical dystopia movie we're currently navigating. People are now desperately seeking out that feeling of closeness and those feelings have left space for something dangerous to sneak: misinformation and conspiracies ...
Online Groups Are Getting Really Weird
When missing that sense of community, online groups have become a quick fix for the isolated. You may be familiar with Facebook Groups: the quirky little feature from the brain of the alien android called Mark Zuckerberg. Well, unsurprising to almost anyone who's been keeping up with the news, Facebook is (allegedly) pivoting away from its "Hey, it's called free speech" approach when they realized that around "70% of the top 100 most active US Civic Groups are considered non-recommendable for issues such as hate, misinfo, bullying and harassment."
That's just Facebook, though. There's a player in this game that, while a lot less prominent than the social media giant, has a lot more danger tied into it: Nextdoor. If you aren't familiar, Nextdoor is a social media app with about 10 million users that focuses on hyper-locality rather than the large scale of Facebook. It's more like a hot garbage fire engulfing your neighbor's trash can rather than your city's dump. You have to give your address to make an account, and your "group" are your literal neighbors. Apps like these are particularly infamous, from everything to exaggerating fear in local crime and to helping enable racial profiling.
The most telling issue, though, is how difficult it is to moderate these groups. Since hyper-locality is the nature of neighborhood apps, and there's so much to have to police, it relies on a ton of local moderators. These local moderators are unpaid random members of these communities, so there's no real incentive for them to do their job right other than just ethical assumptions. Meaning that you're left relying on an individual's personal moral compass, which is how we get were reports of moderators deleting posts about Black Lives Matter as a more "mild" example.
These groups end up becoming lawless areas where people tend to throw down over everything and circulate conspiracies and misinformation. Rather than bringing communities together, and helping raise that social capital, they just tear people apart and devolve into massive unmoderated fights over everything from vaccines containing microchips and that tea tree oil is a suitable replacement to washing your hands, to Trump being God's gift to America fighting against cannibals and pedophiles. Seeing your neighbors spout such insanity creates a McCarthy-level paranoia, leaving people wondering if that kind person from down the street, who always drops a pie around the holidays, is really a card-carrying Antifa assassin or QAnon quack.
Yoga And New Agey Types Are Getting Into It
Surprise: wellness communities are falling into QAnon conspiracies. Who could have expected that the people who believe crystals have magic healing powers have some hot takes on Covid?
It really is a bit of a slippery slope with the wellness world. What may have started off as a holistic medicine post like, "Here's a turmeric-infused green juice immunity shot that will help give you a boost," can turn into a complete rejection of modern medicine and common-sense recommendations of doctors and researchers. It seems that the acceptance of alternative belief systems made it rather easy to accept alternative facts.
Yoga and health & wellness influencers alike have fallen into this trap. It's not uncommon to be scrolling Instagram and posts in the typical aspirational style post about "saving the children" and "Covid is a Hoax." The conspiracies, along with their underlying messaging designed to sow misinformation and create a racial divide, have been repackaged to target and be palatable to the wellness community.
It's gotten to the point where it is so widespread in these groups that other influencers and businesses have felt the need to give comment about it: