What Your Patients are Hearing

Putting the brakes on ‘virality’


The Internet can be the antithesis of pondering before doing. “Take a breath,” “count to 10,” and “sleep on it” are all pearls of wisdom meant to keep people from doing or saying something that they will regret later. But the world of Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp is rife with rude responses and is a conduit for “virality” – the global dissemination of information.

The information can be silly and harmless. But it also can be false and damaging. A compelling example of the latter is the meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by Russian operatives via Facebook.

The information also can prove lethal. An article in The Economist cites the example of at least two dozen people who were killed in India after stories linking them (falsely) to child abductions went viral on WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook.

Part of the problem with WhatsApp has been the capability of mass dissemination of a post. Users now are able to forward messages to only 20 others. Since WhatsApp is not fueled by advertiser revenue, a drop in traffic does not affect the financial bottom line. A similar limit on Facebook and Twitter seems harder to envision.

And yet, the move could prove wise, according to the article. “The short-term pain caused by a decline in virality may be in the long-term interest of the social networks. Fake news and concerns about digital addiction, among other things, have already damaged the reputations of tech platforms. Moves to slow sharing could help see off draconian action by regulators and lawmakers,” according to the authors.

More than half the population of the planet uses the Internet. Fostering a climate of honest exchange of information and limiting the spread of malicious information could have a transformative effect.

Click here to read The Economist article.

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