Social media experts are calling on politicians to take the lead in stopping the online spread of myths and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.
A Tyne & Wear based digital democracy campaign says bizarre stories circulating on social media – like how COVID-19 can be cured with sesame oil or shaving, or that it was created as a weapon by the Chinese or CIA – must be rapidly rebutted by credible sources to keep people safe.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK has now past 50 – but the Chief Medical Officer has warned that an epidemic of the virus is “likely”, with up to one in five workers expected to be off work at the same time by the time the virus has peaked.
The spread of the infection has lead to the spread of online myths about the coronavirus – including claims that it can be cured by keeping clean shaven or by covering yourself in sesame oil.
Speaking at a press conference about the outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted that “the media has a very important role in this, particularly the social media and electronic media of all types”.
Facebook, Twitter and Google have introduced features to ensure official NHS and World Health Organisation information on the outbreak are at the top of search results.
The PM’s call has been echoed by the makers of digital democracy social network Rate Your Leader, a free app that allows voters to identify and connect directly with their elected representatives and rate them for responsiveness.
Founder Joel Popoola said:
“Social media timelines are being taken over by stories about the virus with myths about what you can do to fight it spreading almost as quickly as the virus itself.
“People might tell you that they don’t trust their local MP or councillor, but in reality, they are high credibility sources with a unique power and reach to promote crucial health messages through their networks.
“Networks like Rate Your Leader have a vital role to play in allowing accurate information to be communicated unfiltered from reliable sources to the people who might otherwise be panicked into listening to less reputable advice and taking steps which might actually be dangerous or damaging to their health.”
Free app Rate Your Leader was created by the Digital Democracy project to bridge the gulf between people and their elected representatives with phones and other handheld devices – whilst blocking malicious or offensive communication in a way that other social media platforms do not.
The abuse-proof Rate Your Leader app confirmed voters in specific electoral divisions to communicate directly with the elected representatives, as well as rating them for responsiveness.
The Rate Your Leader app is available from the Apple and Google Marketplaces. The app has a five star rating on the Google market, with one reviewer writing “This is the new level of politics…better communication of leaders with the electorates and accountability”.
An ever-increasing number of MPs, councillors, and Police & Crime Commissioners have already taken advantage of the free democracy app to stay in touch with the people who elect them and to get their message out to confirmed voters in their constituencies, helping them truly understand what matters most to the people who elect them