Brain & Mind Human Society Social Media

Pandemic of misinformation virus

I came across three of the deadliest viruses, i.e. HIV, H5N1 and misinformation, through the good office of the apex healthcare institute of our state during last week.

One doctor from this august establishment was quoted to have said that sharing breath-analyzer would “spread infectious diseases like HIV”; while the other informed me via TV that, “Bird-flu is not as dangerous as swine-flu. In past, its patients were observed in many places across India. The mortality rate is extremely low”.

Interestingly, as per commonly available information on internet, it is easy nearly impossible to catch HIV (which, incidentally, is not a disease but the AIDS causing virus) by sharing a breath-analyzer. Human saliva is never observed to be acting as a carrier, as it contains enzymes hostile to HIV.

The bird-flu claim by the other doctor is even curiouser; because, if World Health Organization (WHO) has not erred, India is yet to record bird-flu in humans, which is lucky, as bird-flu virus (H5N1) kills nearly half of those infected, making it worse than even Ebola virus.

For me, even more interesting than these viruses is this phenomenon of people spreading misinformation, as this tendency is now getting extremely common. As people appear driven to spread misinformation, it feels as if misinformation is actually a form of virus that, riding on social media, is on the verge of causing a global pandemic worse that both HIV and H5N1.

The biggest problem with viral diseases is that they have no cure. Viral infection can be prevented only by avoiding exposure, so the first line of defense against a virus is being aware about where it lurks and how it enters your body; because, after you get infected, the only defense left is vitality of your own immune system.

The misinformation-virus is no different. You can escape it if you are careful enough to avoid exposure. But, unfortunately for us, it is difficult to identify infectious individuals who are carrying misinformation.

One clue to watch out for is in behaviour of those infected with misinformation. As if related to rabies virus, misinformation-virus appears to be altering human behaviour and leading its victims to use social tools for transferring information extremely aggressively. So a possible way to avoid misinformation-exposure is to watch out for obsessive forwarders and vehement arguers on social media platforms.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent the misinformation-virus from entering into your brain today, because we are now living in an environment where it is lurking all around us. Looking at misinformation proliferation, it is very likely that very soon we will be hit by tsunami of misinformation that is accumulating in the system. For sentinel beings dependent on knowledge for survival, there is no greater danger than this misinformation built up that we are observing all around us.

Thankfully, we are provided with a robust system capable of destroying misinformation in form of our reasoning ability; but we are not prone to use it too often because misinformation-virus was not so prevalent in past. Today, we really need to strengthen our reasoning facility and become keen to employ it more often.

This process also needs support from outside. Those with strong reasoning power and vitality to search for truth need to take a proactive role of identifying misinformation and help in destroying it, especially on social media platforms. Thinking people are required to rise to save humanity from misinformation-virus before it overwhelms us.

As Descartes had thought, we think therefor we exist. In the new age, we need to start thinking or we may not exist for long.

DNA: 8/1/17

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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