Last week I posted an article titled "COVID-19 Has Been A Media Hoax: This Is What They Don't Want You To Know". I had no idea the response I would get from promoting this specific writing on my social media, nor how that response would impact people's opinions of me or my writing, but I took a chance and published it anyway. This week, I would like to explain my intent behind the article as well as some lessons that can be learned about what drives the creation of conspiracy theories and the ease with which they can spread online.
Before I get any further into this week's article, I want to make it abundantly clear that the title and opening paragraph of last week's article were written in satire of similar headlines I have seen circulating around my own social media. I do not think that COVID-19 is a hoax nor do I believe that any of the hypothetical questions that were posed at the outset of last week's article have any merit in their attempt to prove that coronavirus is not a serious issue. Unfortunately, this title and satirical opening paragraph caused confusion among those who did not read the article in its entirety. One of my very good friends reached out to me expressing his personal conflict with my title and to politely let me know that he disagreed with the use of the term "hoax" in describing the pandemic because he recently lost his grandmother to COVID-19. While I took great care to discuss the intent of my article and apologized profusely in private conversation, I would also like to extend a public apology to my friend for any hurt or confusion that came from my article title and opening paragraph. That same apology goes out to any other reader who felt offended, hurt, confused, or upset by the title or opening paragraph of last week's article. It was never my intention to purposefully mislead any reader or to convince my audience that COVID-19 is actually a hoax. Additionally, I offer my condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19. I can not imagine undergoing such a loss at this time and I recognize that my article last week, while intended to be educational and satirical, was also in poor taste in regards to how I dealt with characterizing the coronavirus at the start of the article.
This brings me to my next point, which is an analysis of the effects of sharing last week's article on my social media. Following my promotion of the article on all of my active social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, two things became abundantly clear: first, that engagement with my social media accounts skyrocketed and second, that a new subset of followers and friends were interacting with my accounts who usually don't comment on, share, or like my posts. I think that these effects may help to explain why certain accounts are continuing to publish articles with similar intros and titles to "COVID-19 Has Been A Media Hoax" or "This Is What They Don't Want You To Know About COVID-19". If companies can generate revenue from getting clicks on social media platforms and if these misleading article titles lead to increased engagement and reach to new audiences, it makes sense that these conspiracy theory promoting articles are created and published every day in order to stir up deep feelings to get clicks. This may be one reason why social media is filled to the brim with conspiracy theories not only about the existence of coronavirus itself, but also about the efficacy of mask wearing, the trustworthiness of experts, and the origins of COVID-19.
If you are one of the many individuals who thought that I was genuinely pushing the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 is a hoax, I encourage you to read my article from last week in its entirety. I also encourage you to use the skills I outlined at the end of last week's article to determine if an article is reliable, if the information being presented to you online is true, and how to interact with others who believe in conspiracy theories in a positive way. My hope in writing this article and last week's article is that at least one person might be better educated about the dangers of believing every buzz word filled headline they see online.
Spreading disinformation and baseless conspiracy theories can negatively impact not only your own perceptions of the world, but also the feelings of others, like my friend who is not fortunate enough to have the luxury of believing that this is a "plandemic" or a "hoax" following the death of his grandmother. Please think critically before you share information online. Please don't believe everything you see on the internet at face value. Most importantly, please be aware of the impact that you may have on others when you share harmful and untrue information online. As I learned firsthand last week, information that may be little more than a conspiracy theory to you has the potential to be a painful life and death reality for someone else.