Clodagh Finn: I’ll be keeping a safe distance from all fake news

Ordinary people are using social media to reach out to others and to ease their isolation. This should be encouraged, but we should get our facts from reputable media outlets
Clodagh Finn: I’ll be keeping a safe distance from all fake news
RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne does her show from her shed at home, while in self-isolation due to the coronavirus.
RTÉ presenter Claire Byrne does her show from her shed at home, while in self-isolation due to the coronavirus.

Ordinary people are using social media to reach out to others and to ease their isolation.

This should be encouraged, but we should get our facts from reputable media outlets.

It’’s not yet 8am and I’m laughing. Today, it’s thanks to Cork businessman Kevin Cummins, who posted

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If you don’t have a golf club, a brush or a rake will do, the 75-year-old says, in a fitness sketch that pokes fun at Peter O’Keeffe, the former Irish amateur golf champion, who posted a real version for people stuck at home.

Cummins’ niece, Mary-Claire, is married to O’Keeffe, so there was no edge to the satire.

The day before, my loud guffaws (there’s no need to hold back when working from home) were at the expense of a misfortunate Italian priest.

The poor man livestreamed mass without realising that he had activated video filters and, before long, he was being beamed across the world, ‘wearing,’ by turns, a digital helmet, lifting dumbbells, and sporting a long, bushy beard.

He did see the funny side, though. A laugh is good, he said afterwards.

And there has been no shortage of humour in the posts that have swamped our usual channels.

Sample Facebook joke: ‘Struck up a conversation with a spider today. Says she’s a web designer.’

Even if the jokes wear thin very quickly — and, believe me, they do — the updates of how people are using social media to reach out to others do not.

It has been uplifting to see people using ingenuity and imagination, not to mention kindness, to connect with others, as life moves online.

There are no longer individual destinies, only a collective destiny, as Albert Camus said.

This global pandemic has brought out the best in us, because we are all in it together.

Witness the compassion, companionship, generosity, and self-sacrifice in the most unlikely places: on Facebook feeds, WhatApp groups, and Twitter posts all around the world.

People who would not normally say hello to each are joining local Facebook groups, so that they can check in on neighbours.

How rousing to see the country come together to applaud our healthcare workers on Thursday night and, in many cases, post their efforts online.

There are endless examples of people using social media to offer support, advice, and a dizzying range of free services.

Whenever I want to remind myself of the nobility of the human spirit, I log on to the

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The overwhelming response to a call for letters, poems, and drawings for elderly residents who can no longer receive visitors at St Luke’s Home Foundation is just one small example.

It’s also been heartening and hilarious to take the workday online.

Apart from anything else, we have revealed ourselves to be a pack of nosy ninnies, straining at the leash for a gawk into somebody else’s home.

You wouldn’t be alone in talking about TV presenter Claire Byrne’s garden shed or broadcaster Brian Dobson’s dining-room bookshelves, which featured in a picture of him presenting Morning Ireland from home. (For the curious, he later said: James Joyce is top left; The Picador books are by Eric Newby; Shelves built by Oakline, Ranelagh.)

Speaking of which, ‘shelvies’ are now a thing; there’s a nice hashtag, #showyourshelves, inviting people to give bookcases some love and post pictures of them on Twitter. (Yes, it has come to that, but there is endless comfort in squinting at the spines lined up in neat rows in other people’s homes.)

If you aren’t already bug-eyed by whatever tickles your fancy online, it will happen soon enough, because the urge to log on and scroll ad nauseum has been overwhelming.

When we look back on the Covid-19 crisis — and that day will come — social media will have been one of the key tools that helped us navigate these exceptional times.

If we are the foot soldiers in this war against an invisible enemy, then technology is one of our most effective tools.

Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter are saving us now, but they are also proving to be our undoing.

We are seeing the terrible toll the physical virus is taking on people all over the world.

What is less evident, at least for now, is the toll the mental virus — if we can call it that — is taking on those stuck to their phones.

In the early days of the pandemic, it was almost impossible not to be swept up in manic phone-checking, as the situation changed from hour to hour.

It wasn’t long before the rumours and the misinformation, and the public alarm, took hold.

How many of us go to bed at night emotionally overwrought from another day of scrolling, video-watching, and frantically obeying those disingenuous ‘pass it on diktats’ on the endless number of factoids circulating right now?

Any message that includes the words ‘pass it on’ seems a little suspect to me.

The WhatsApp hoax warning that the virus was spreading through petrol pumps had the ‘pass it on’ addendum and, interestingly, it came through in several forms, each one quoting a trusted source, such as a hospital or a particular doctor.

In that case, no real harm was done, because, at worst, it encouraged people to be careful at garages.

In many other messages, though, the fake news and misinformation have fuelled panic and fear, which, like the coronavirus itself, are highly contagious.

Some have speculated how our world will change post-crisis.

Here’s hoping it will make us more appreciative, more empathic, and more environmentally aware.

Right now, though, let’s hope this global pandemic will give us a ‘fake news’ wake-up call.

Don’t believe everything you read. Question it. Seek out the origin of the information. Rely on trusted news sources.

You won’t find too much measured analysis in the videos and messages pinging in your WhatsApp feed.

That’s why I’m planning to keep a distance, not only from those around me, but also from social media.

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