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Users on social media platform Facebook have been able to connect and share memories and moments with their friends and family members more than ever before. They can communicate or engage with others in many ways, such as messaging on Messenger between two or more parties (or groups of people), commenting on posts made by friends and family, joining Groups and liking or following Pages.
Hundreds and millions of users interact through Facebook’s Pages and Groups. But they are both different. Pages are accessible to anyone, while groups require approval or moderation. They can sometimes be hidden from view or not accessible to anyone unless a user joins due to privacy settings set by the administrator or creator. Groups control what users can access or participate in.
Despite the positive impact the platform has on society in allowing people to communicate virtually online by using many features, there is insufficient development of social interactions between individuals within communities, which may affect how society is perceived compared to reality.
Image: Supplied - Facebook login page
People around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic have been able to access the internet more frequently than usual, especially in New Zealand. Since, anti-government and anti-pandemic groups or conspiracy riddled cult QAnon have improperly used Facebook to convey a certain message. This has for the most part endangered the thought space of those who are falling victim to the groups’ mis/disinformation spread through the platform, which can lead to harm.
A worldwide effort was made to address the challenges of misinformation spreading, especially surrounding vaccines. More than eighty independent fact-checkers removed around twelve million pieces of content, according to a statement from Facebook dated April 19, 2021. In addition, a Covid-19 information center introduced notifications distributed to users' News Feeds, and information labels with reliable sources of facts from experts were implemented on the platform.
Even though Facebook has policies and processes in place to remove dangerous content, it doesn't do enough to protect its communities early on. The social network propagates conspiracy theories, and rabbit hole woes the more the victimised user is exposed to a topic they follow and engage with.
Image: Supplied - Billy Te Kahika on flight not wearing mask properly
Known conspiracy theorist Billy Te Kahika, who's grown well over 26,400 followers on his page actively discouraging Māori people and parents of children to get vaccinated, has called the vaccine many times a poison jab or clot shot in livestreamed videos – which the platforms’ algorithm promotes to users engaging with his content.
It is likely one of the reasons why vaccination rates in Northland for the Māori population, where Mr Te Kahika lives, have been low as part of the rollout. He continues to actively promote content of this nature at a level unprecedented, and profits from it by asking followers to donate to his bank account.
Image: Adobe Stock - Covid-19 Vaccine being administered
As an example, Ministry of Health data dated December 14 (2021) detailed that 3,952,372 total first doses were administered around the country, while 3,758,735 total second doses were administered. Of this, 491,768 total first doses of the Māori population were administered, and 430,329 total second were administered.
The Māori population at the time reached 438,632 fully vaccinated, while the Asian population reached 614,028 fully vaccinated. It's a significant difference. StatsNZ data from 27/05/21 show there's an estimated 874,800 total Maori population and an estimated 876,800 total Asian population.
One triumph was group Voices For Freedom that has alleged links to Guo Wengui’s disinformation network, led by conspiracy theorist Claire Deeks, was eventually removed from the platform. The removal was undertaken months after a large amount of disinformation was spread to undermine the government's vaccination rollout.
Image: Sam Hudson - Sue Grey outside Wellington Railway Station – August 19, 2020
Sue Grey, an anti-vaccine activist and lawyer who’s failed to contest the government on many accounts to stop the Covid-19 vaccination rollout in New Zealand, is one of the co-leaders of the conspiracy central NZ Outdoors political party.
She'd made posts on the social media platform several times ‘confirming’ individuals had died after taking the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – which turned out not to be true at all.
One post Grey made involved the death of a Year 13 student from a central Auckland School. The student had a medical condition, and the cause of death was understood not to be the vaccine. The post was taken down, but her account has remained accessible spreading misinformation about vaccines and in the midst of endangering users on the platform.
Image: Supplied - Facebook [Debunking Conspiracies Aotearoa page]
Counteractive Facebook pages such as Debunking Conspiracies Aotearoa and FACT (Fight Against Conspiracy Theories) Aotearoa have been set up to fight back against dangerous information shared on the platform in Aotearoa New Zealand, by correcting it.
In addition, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is monitored for safety and efficacy and is approved in New Zealand by Medsafe, the country’s medicines safety authority. It is recommended to always visit truthful sources, such as the Unite Against Covid-19 website, the Ministry of Health, or recognised news sources (in New Zealand) e.g. Stuff, NZ Herald or The Spinoff who's reputable (in New Zealand) for academic publishing.
Facebook is not entirely a trusted platform to act fast to reduce harm, and can hinder the development of strong communities. For go-to information, and can be filled with material that is not entirely true or told by someone who hasn't got the degree and accreditation to provide trustworthy facts to the public.
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