Eva Hilberg By: Eva Hilberg
Post-Doctoral Fellow
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15 May 2020 : Digital Debate

I am just watching a WHO press conference on my phone, via twitter - I did not know that this was even possible until now. But being interested in the use of digital technology within the field of global health, I thought that I'd give it a go (along with Instagram, which is an entirely different story). Anyway, at first I was really impressed with the whole 'live event' thing, and the opportunity of seeing what is going on even on my phone, without having to join the press conference in some other convoluted way - but then it quickly became an entirely different exercise, as the screen has live comments from twitter shown below the 'offical' feed. As the officials were doing their presentations, there was a stream of abuse, misinformation, and conspiracy theories running through the space below their image. Accusations of lying, of benefiting from this crisis in some way (how? I really do not understand - if anything, the WHO has demonstrably lost out as things are going), links to all sorts of conspiracy theories, and outright abuse (some of it comical, some not so much) - all rolled through my screen, like an endless stream of the worst that the internet has to offer. This was rather incongruously offset by a stream of multicoloured hearts floating by on the right hand side, a feature that apparently is supposed to highlight engagement with the event, as over a thousand people had joined at this point. This seems to be the internet, or rather social media, in a nutshell during the event of the coronavirus crisis - both a great opportunity for disseminating information and bringing people together, but also a tool for spreading misinformation and for undermining efforts that otherwise could help. Twitter itself can be a great platform for bringing information together rather quickly and flexibly, but it also has opened the gates for all sorts of campaigns that latch onto a 'trending' topic for a wide range of purposes. It also seems to directly represent the intersection between the 'we've had enough of experts' attitude and the sphere that is often termed 'academic twitter'. The sheer contrast makes you want to despair of humanity almost altogether. Some posters tried to argue with this stream, which does not really represent a debate, rather a bunch of voices shouting in the wind (who added this feature? And what was the rationale? That would be something to follow up on - the stream of hearts seems to indicate that they thought of a rather more pleasant context than this one. This raises another question of using social media in times of health crises - things are being suddenly used for rather more serious uses than initially intended, with rather jarring consequences). 'Jesus rebuke you' was a comment that came up a few times, and may be the only thing that one can still say after watching this.

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