These are uncertain times with unprecedented measures being carried out all around the world to curtail the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many people at these times anxiously look at different mediums in search of authentic information and news.
The outbreak has forced millions of people to observe social distancing and stay at home. In the era of digital communication, people are further pushed towards spending more time on social media. More often than not, they look for news on their smart phones through different social media platforms.
The need for authentic information and news has never been felt so much as it does today. Community recently approached Banu Akdenizli, Associate Professor of Communication at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), to understand how the public at large can use social media to attain verified information.
With a Ph.D. in Media and Communication from Temple University in Philadelphia, Akdenizli has earlier worked as an associate professor of communication at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, Turkey. She formerly worked as a Methodologist and Analyst for the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project in Washington, D.C. She is the editor and contributor of Digital Transformations in Turkey: Current Perspectives in Communication Studies (2015), author of Toward a Healthier Understanding of Internet Policy Development, The Case of Turkey (2007), and co-author of Democracy in the Age of New Media: A Report on the Media and the Immigration Debate (2008).
Akdenizli has also authored various book chapters and numerous periodical articles in both English and Turkish. She is the 2016-2018 University of Southern California (USC) Center for Public Diplomacy Fellow. Her areas of interest and research include digital media studies with a specific focus on international communication, political communication, public diplomacy, media in the Middle East, and Turkey.
When asked how she views different social media platforms as the source of information and news, Akdenizli said: “In specific reference to the Covid-19 pandemic Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube have sent out a joint statement that they are all working closely together to combat misinformation online. This means they are prioritising information shared by trusted sources such as the World Health Organization in our social media feeds. What we have in our hands is labeled as an infodemic by many.
“The ability that misinformation can spread in small groups is still there. Facebook groups and WhatsApp are platforms that the tech companies have little, if any, control. So the danger of spreading misinformation is still there.”
Respond to the question that how much one can or should trust the information shared on social media platforms, the communication professor said: “The Edelman group just published a special report on trust during Covid-19. The report shows us that people trust the most their employer communications as a source of credible news. Scientists and medical doctors also score high in trust. Major news organisations seem to be the primary source of information. Interestingly the report also shows that there is definite concern about fake news and false information spreading. So the awareness of misinformation spread is there.
“So I think the best is to try and keep a healthy media diet even on social media. Checking multiple sources for verification; relying on credible news organisations as well as trusted non-governmental organisations for information is vital. In countries where there is high trust in government officials, such as in the case of Qatar, communications from the ministries are critical.
Following the social media accounts of these organisations would be the best practice.”
When asked for her piece of advice on how people staying at home and spending so much of their time on social media need to use different platforms positively and sensibly, Akdenizli noted: “Keep to trusted news sites, government communications when it comes to obtaining information and news. This is a tough time for everyone. So using social media tools to connect with friends and family is always a good idea. We are social beings. And humour goes a long way in times of crisis.
“Stay informed but also seek out content that will brighten your mood. I have seen many people turning to TikTok videos to spend some fun time. But we also need to remember that we need stopping cues. So sticking to a daily routine that does not revolve around news can be beneficial.”
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