The amplifications of voices from all over the world have been made more ubiquitous since the declaration of COVID-19 a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The pandemonium, which arose, has a result of vast- and fast-paced information that are being consumed daily was subtle at first, and then it became more noticeable as more disinformation and deepfakes permeated the Internet. The plethora of deepfakes materials that are saturating the Internet are not only diverting our attention but also consuming our mental and emotional bandwidth. Half cooked, half digested homespun theories for grandstanding applause might gratify the initiator but wreck someone’s health. Imagine a tech-savvy entity somewhere, fully sponsored, or bored to death with access to unlimited bandwidth messing with one’s mind for some selfish reasons? Because a contribution that is fuelling distress, panic and mental and emotional disturbances can only be of malevolent benefit to the generators and a mental anguish to the consumers.
Since COVID-19 surfaced, overwhelming is the Internet for several alarmist updates to misinform, to cause panic and to spread rumors. Before physical distancing is enforced, COVID-19 information from the online communities, —be it from the desk of a professional reporter, a netizen, a newbie, or an anonymous— were more speculative than factual. Despite the lack of veracity of some of the materials been churned out and distributed through the social media, many users continued to share these contents to ease their uncertainties or join in scapegoating whomever has been pointed at as the manufacturer of COVID-19. It did not stop there however, it reached a fever pitch as more deepfake videos and malicious but clever write-ups began to float about on several platforms. To eradicate the rumors, Poynter gathered hundreds of false information and published on their website to educate the public about what is non-factual and what is fact-checked about the novel coronavirus pandemic.
While technology has brought a daring reality that businesses, politics, security and human lives generally can be transformed quintessentially, the omnipresent new media and cyberspace is a double-edged sword that allows for anyone’s intention, healthy or unhealthy to be presented, represented and amplified. Thus, birthing a new wave of anxiety and panic. From personal observations of several platforms, some of these misleading materials that are well crafted managed to cause mental havoc and emotional distress for many people. An example is an intellectual platform observed, which was teaming with prolonged and anxiety-inducing debates over these unverified materials that often turn out to be false. This web of falsehood is far-reaching as most of these materials are taking from social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and WhatsApp to begin the onslaught of mental and emotional tirades over unverified but very believable stories surrounding COVID-19. Videos, texts or audio messages that have gone viral over the origin of coronavirus as a bioweapon was so well crafted that the conspiracy theory outcry was swiftly widespread.
While the advancement in networking and information sharing ought to be of a great advantage, it is also of a great concern because of the endless stream of fakeries. Granted, this is the first global pandemic since the Black Plague of the 14th century to the Spanish Flu of the 20th century to meet a well-connected global village such as this, and the first all-consuming global pandemic of the 21st century with advanced information and communication technology at people’s disposal. Also, it is to be acknowledged that in the age of digital democracy, everyone without the fear of getting censored or bullied ought to be able to contribute to humanity using the new media technology as taming or censoring of uploaded user-generated content poses serious human rights challenges. More so, some notable propagandists have come from the government, the media and the society as witnessed during World War I & II, Cold War, The War on Terror or recently the COVID-19 propaganda by the Trump’s administration. But being responsible with the usage and consumption of new media content is very vital.
Although, A double-edged sword can cut both ways, and this is why it is still a promising avenue for questioning and challenging whatever is put forth to verify its authenticity. A borderless global village of four billion inhabitants is truly a smorgasbord of information, however, what is being consumed will determine what the consumer is investing in. More so, sacrificing one’s mental and emotional wellbeing seems a terrible option, especially when boosting one’s immunity is the viable option to at least escape death by the novel coronavirus if infected.
There are numerous ways new media is beneficial at this point in our history. It helps us stay connected, conduct business, hold meetings, interact, play games and stay informed. Consciously tapping into these auspicious uses is a wise decision anyone can make. In addition, going on social media break to recalibrate, and feel grounded is a holistic way of nurturing the immune system in these precarious times. Instead of sinking into fear, panic and anxiety, intermittent social media fasting is a way to stay sane. Deconditioning one’s mind to the believability of all the materials that are saturating the Internet is another option. Also, joining digital wellness classes and gatherings is a nutritious way to fellowship with those investing in collective care. Giving our mental state a rest will ensure we do not lose our minds before COVID-19 cure is finalized.
Toyin Ajao (PhD), is a Research Associate of the African Leadership Centre and the founder of iAfrika Centre for Holistic Research and Praxis; focusing on personal and interpersonal (healing) transformation through evidence-based multidisciplinary empirical findings and praxes. Dr. Ajao is a committed member of Connecting the Dots Technical Advisory Group.