Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Social studies: Online posts rarely dogmatic yet we still believe

- — Marco Buscaglia, Careers

Consider the following fictional social media post: “Too bad Company A has 10 people with coronaviru­s. Gonna hurt sales. I wouldn’t touch those baskets.”

No source, no quote, no statistics and no proof. Just a tweet.

But it’s out there.

So you, as an employee of Company B, Company A’s biggest competitor, retweet it. Then your co-workers retweet it. Then it’s on Facebook and Reddit and before you can say “Winklevoss Brothers,” Company A’s stock is down, its second-largest buyer cancels its holiday order and suddenly, Company A’s employees are at risk of losing their jobs.

Real problems, real results, real damage, all from an unfounded tweet.

While the social media monoliths continue to tinker with their policies on false posts, people ranging from your nine-year-old neighbor to the highest ranks of government actively engage in providing misleading informatio­n. Enter the coronaviru­s.

In an era of immediate informatio­n, Roslyn Stone, chief operating officer of crisis management firm Zero Hour Health, says she’s still surprised at how often people believed what they read about the recent pandemic online without giving it any thought or logic. “I’m amazed by it. I’m amazed by what I’m told from people who should know better,” she says. “Facebook and

Twitter shouldn’t be your first source of informatio­n.”

Michael Green, MD, agrees. “It’s scary, actually, and the media reports on some of those tweets, which can be really damaging,” he says. “There are a lot of people on Twitter but it’s a small percentage of the population. But what’s written on Twitter might get reported on the news, and that can cause real problems.”

Still, not all social media is bad when it comes to containing COVID-19, though. Consider the suddenly popular tweets of Pali Thordarson, a chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales, who has gained numerous followers by touting the powers of soap. In an era of convenient­ly bottled disinfecta­nt — including now-empty store shelves and bidding on single bottles on eBay, Thordarson’s Twitter account — @PaliThorda­rson — became all the rage after a 25-part tweet on March 8, which begins as follows: “Why does soap work so well on the SARSCoV-2, the coronaviru­s and indeed most viruses? Because it is a self-assembled nanopartic­le in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer.”

A quick read through Thordarson’s thread basically proves what we’ve known all along: When it comes to combating COVID-19, the flu or any other illness, soap works. Use it.

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