Google Doctors, WhatsApp University Economists & Facebook Historians - The Dark Side of Cheap Data
In recent years, the availability of cheap data plans and affordable smartphones has led to a surge in internet usage, particularly in developing countries. While this has brought many benefits, such as increased access to information and communication, it has also had some negative consequences. However, this availability of cheap data plans and social media platforms has also given rise to a dark side, where misinformation, propaganda, and conspiracy theories spread rapidly and easily. This has led to the emergence of phenomena such as "Google Doctors," "WhatsApp University Economists," and "Facebook Historians," where people with little or no expertise in a field use the internet to share false or misleading information, leading to potentially dangerous consequences. One of the most concerning is the rise of misinformation and fake news, spread by self-proclaimed "experts" on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.
This article will explore the dark side of cheap data, focusing on the impact it has had on the fields of medicine, economics, and history.
The term "Google Doctor" refers to people who self-diagnose their medical conditions by researching symptoms on the internet, without consulting a qualified medical professional. While the internet can be a valuable tool for learning about health conditions and treatments, it can also lead to misdiagnosis and dangerous self-treatment. In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers found that nearly two-thirds of online medical advice was inaccurate. This can be particularly dangerous in cases where serious conditions such as cancer or heart disease are misdiagnosed or left untreated due to reliance on unverified online sources.
The Rise of Google Doctors
One of the most worrying consequences of cheap data has been the proliferation of so-called "Google doctors" - people who diagnose and treat themselves based on information they find online. While there is no doubt that the internet can be a valuable source of health information, relying solely on it can be dangerous. For one thing, not all online health information is accurate or up-to-date. In fact, some websites intentionally spread false or misleading information, either for profit or to push a particular agenda.
Even when the information is accurate, it can be difficult for laypeople to interpret and apply it correctly. Medical conditions are complex and often have multiple possible causes and treatments. Only a trained medical professional can accurately diagnose and treat a condition based on a patient's symptoms and medical history.
Despite this, many people in developing countries turn to Google and other online sources for medical advice, either because they cannot afford to see a doctor or because they do not trust their local healthcare system. This has led to some worrying trends, such as people self-diagnosing serious conditions like cancer and attempting to treat them with home remedies or unproven alternative therapies. In some cases, this can delay proper diagnosis and treatment, putting the patient's health at risk.
WhatsApp University Economist
Similarly, the term "WhatsApp University Economist" refers to people who use social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread economic advice or theories without proper qualifications or training. This can lead to the spread of false information, as well as the promotion of harmful economic policies. In India, for example, WhatsApp has been used to spread misinformation about the country's demonetization policy, which resulted in widespread financial disruption and hardship for many citizens.
The Rise of WhatsApp University Economists
Economics is another field where the rise of cheap data has had some negative consequences. In recent years, WhatsApp groups have emerged as a popular platform for sharing economic news and analysis. While this can be a useful way for people to stay informed about the economy, it can also lead to the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
One example of this is the belief that demonetization - the Indian government's decision to ban high-value currency notes in 2016 - was a success. Many WhatsApp groups and other social media platforms were filled with messages claiming that demonetization had eliminated black money and reduced corruption. However, these claims were not supported by any credible evidence or data. In fact, several studies have shown that demonetization had a negative impact on the economy, particularly on small businesses and informal workers.
Another example is the belief that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are safe and profitable investments. Many WhatsApp groups and other online forums are filled with messages claiming that investing in cryptocurrencies is a surefire way to make a quick profit. However, the reality is much more complicated. Cryptocurrencies are highly volatile and unpredictable, and investing in them carries significant risk. Many people who invest in cryptocurrencies without fully understanding the risks end up losing money.
"Facebook Historians" refers to people who use social media to spread false or misleading historical information. This can have serious consequences, as it can lead to the perpetuation of harmful myths and stereotypes, as well as the distortion of historical facts. In the United States, for example, the spread of false information about the history of slavery and the Civil War has contributed to ongoing racial tensions and a lack of understanding about the legacy of slavery and its impact on contemporary society.
The Rise of Facebook Historians
Finally, the rise of cheap data has also had an impact on the field of history. Social media platforms like Facebook have become a breeding ground for revisionist history, where people with little or no training in history attempt to rewrite the past based on their own biases and beliefs.
One example of this is the recent controversy over the Taj Mahal. In 2017, several right-wing groups in India claimed that the Taj Mahal was not a symbol of love, as it is commonly believed, but a Hindu temple that had been converted into a mosque by Muslim rulers. These claims were based on little or no evidence and were widely criticized by historians and archaeologists. However, they gained traction on social media and led to protests and demands to rename the monument.
This is not an isolated incident. Social media platforms are filled with messages that distort or outright ignore historical facts and events, often in service of a particular political or ideological agenda. This can have serious consequences, as it can fuel sectarian tensions, promote extremist ideologies, and sow confusion about the past.
Real Life Example of 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections
The spread of misinformation through these "Google Doctors," "WhatsApp University Economists," and "Facebook Historians" is not limited to individual cases. It can also have broader social and political consequences, as the spread of false information can contribute to the erosion of trust in institutions and the polarization of society. In some cases, it can even be used as a tool of propaganda or disinformation by political actors or interest groups.
One example of this is the way in which social media was used to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russian operatives used social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to spread false information and sow division among the American electorate, contributing to the election of Donald Trump. This has led to ongoing concerns about the role of social media in democratic processes, as well as the spread of disinformation and propaganda more broadly.
The Root Causes of Misinformation
The rise of Google doctors, WhatsApp university economists, and Facebook historians is a symptom of a larger problem - the spread of misinformation and fake news on social media platforms. There are several root causes of this problem, including:
Lack of Media Literacy: Many people who use social media platforms do not have the skills or knowledge needed to evaluate the information they encounter online. They may not know how to distinguish between credible and unreliable sources, or how to fact-check information they come across.
The Algorithms that Promote Engagement: Social media platforms are designed to promote engagement, often at the expense of accuracy and quality. Algorithms used by platforms like Facebook and Twitter prioritize content that generates likes, shares, and comments, regardless of its veracity. This can lead to the spread of sensationalist and misleading content.
Confirmation Bias: People are more likely to believe information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and opinions, and to reject information that contradicts them. Social media platforms can exacerbate this tendency by creating "echo chambers" where people only encounter information that supports their worldview.
Lack of Trust in Traditional Institutions: In many developing countries, there is a deep-seated mistrust of traditional institutions like the government, the media, and even the medical establishment. This can lead people to turn to alternative sources of information, such as social media, even if they are not credible or reliable.
So, what can be done to address this dark side of cheap data?
What Can Be Done?
Addressing the problem of misinformation and fake news will require a multi-pronged approach. Some possible strategies include:
Promoting Media Literacy: Governments, NGOs, and other organizations can launch campaigns to promote media literacy and critical thinking skills, particularly among young people. This can help people to evaluate information more effectively and to recognize fake news and misinformation when they see it.
Regulating Social Media Platforms: Governments can pass laws and regulations that require social media platforms to take more responsibility for the content they host. For example, platforms could be required to fact-check content, remove false or misleading information, and provide more transparency about how their algorithms work.
Encouraging Fact-Checking: Media organizations and other stakeholders can work to promote fact-checking and fact-checking organizations. This can help people to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate information, and to avoid spreading misinformation themselves.
Building Trust in Traditional Institutions: Governments and other organizations can work to rebuild trust in traditional institutions, such as the medical establishment, the media, and the government. This can help to reduce people's reliance on alternative sources of information, such as social media.
The rise of cheap data has brought many benefits to developing countries, including increased access to information and communication. However, it has also had some negative consequences, particularly in the fields of medicine, economics, and history. The spread of misinformation and fake news on social media platforms can have serious consequences, including delayed medical treatment, economic loss, and sectarian tensions. Addressing this problem will require a multi-pronged approach, including promoting media literacy, regulating social media platforms, encouraging fact-checking, and building trust in traditional institutions. Only by working together can we ensure that the benefits of cheap data are realized without succumbing to its dark side.