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Social Media & Misinformation During the COVID- 19 Pandemic

By Nina, a highschooler & Girl Security Participant
Essay reflects the views of the author. 

During the pandemic my social media connectivity has increased a great amount. Because of the pandemic forcing us into quarantine, I went from seeing my friends every day, to not seeing them at all. With these changes, I had no other option but to communicate through social media, sometimes for many hours a day. However, as we all know, spending too much time online can be dangerous if you are consuming disinformation deliberately intended to deceive.  

For example, when students in my school tested positive for COVID, I started to panic and think, was I around them today? Was it on my desk or other surfaces? Will any of my friends be on the quarantine list? If it continues to spread, will we have to shift to online learning? Will my track season be canceled?  On top of an already stressful situation, misinformation spread through social media that masks don’t work and that kids didn’t need to worry about COVID, which led to even greater confusion.  There were many times that my friends and I didn’t know what to believe or where to turn for information.

If government officials, including school teachers and administrators, do not address disinformation and its effects, kids will continue to lack confidence in the information they consume. We urgently need solutions to identify dis- and misinformation. I believe that kids can help. For example, during an English class assignment to listen to the TED Talk “Gaming can make a better world” by Jane McGoninal, I learned about the positive attributes of gaming that can be used to solve some of the world’s most complex problems such as climate change and world hunger [Ted Talk]. The challenge is to find a way to channel these positive aspects of gaming to solve real world problems such as misinformation spread during a global pandemic.

There are a number of examples of where gaming is used to help solve real world problems. The makers of Minecraft are collaborating with the UN- Habitat to help engage poor communities in the urban design process, where the game is used as a tool to visualize their own public spaces. Additional specific benefits from the Minecraft UN collaboration include improving public safety, economic opportunity, access to clean water, and sustainability [Block by Block]. Another great example is Hellblade, one of the first video games to address mental illness was developed in collaboration with neuroscientists at the University of Cambridge, and people suffering from psychosis. These are two examples of critical problems being addressed through gaming [Cisco Blogs].

With the presence of this horrible virus, there are many protocols and rules to live by each day, but the rapid spread of misinformation demonstrates that we need to do better. I am taking a positive view that through technology such as gaming, kids may be able to help solve problems such as misinformation. I am not the only one who believes that this change is possible. Cisco Corporation says that we are closer than ever to a tipping point with many companies developing video games to make a positive impact [Cisco Blogs]. This is a very important time and I look forward to contributing.