A funny thing happened a few nights ago. My wife, who has been making dozens of surgical masks for Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, woke up in the middle of the night and proclaimed that she’d just made 40 masks for a herd of cows because they were spreading the virus. I laughed and our grandchildren thought the image was hysterical — cows spreading the coronavirus.
The next day I read a not so funny story about a meme circulating in social media that 5-G networks were spreading the new coronavirus. Folks were actually burning 5-G networking equipment around the world. They thought these networks were some kind of a plot to spread the virus through radio waves. Then there is the meme circulating that the COVID-19 virus was man-made for nefarious reasons. There are others: hold your breath for 10 seconds; drink methanol (industrial strength alcohol); or drink a glass of water every 15 minutes. And my favorite, vodka will kill it. Unfortunately, this kind of misinformation folly abounds.
Social digital media is a Janus-faced technology. It’s an amazing medium for bringing people and global information together, faster than ever before. The legendary German, Faust, who traded his soul to the devil for unlimited worldly knowledge, could have saved his soul had the Internet come to him in the 16th century. However, there’s a dark side to the internet. It transmits misinformation, deception, distortion and untruths with remarkable efficiency. This dark side can simply mislead, or it can be used as a weapon of mass destruction against our democratic institutions, as the Russians have so adeptly demonstrated. So here we are at the intersection of democracy and information technology.
Hopefully, this struggle with the novel coronavirus will turn out to be an inflection and reflection point for all of us.
For now, COVID-19 is the most recent existential threat to people all over the world. In an interconnected world, there will be others. Overloaded with information, we and our corporate partners need to be vigilant about misinformation and propaganda. We need to think of ourselves as myth busters. Uncertain times call for trusted facts. Main-stream media like this newspaper, The Times Gazette, are the antidote to spin and deception and critical to truth and trust in perilous times.
Oh, the cows. Recall from dreams rarely include much detail, but my wife assured me that making masks for cows was much easier, big ears… protruding face… yeah, OK.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and with his wife runs a small farm in Berrysville. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.