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On gullibility and social media

I love social media. I am active on multiple ones: Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. I have even dabbled on others like Bluesky and Telegram.…

I love social media. I am active on multiple ones: Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. I have even dabbled on others like Bluesky and Telegram. I am all for the democratisation of knowledge, for accessibility to news and all the other great things social media is good for. 

However, what I cannot stand is the incessant and indiscriminate forwarding and sharing of articles/news/ advice. The same way you – sensible and compassionate and truthful – have access to social media, is the same way the person who’s full of mischief has access. Behind all those “Breaking News,” “This is happening right now,” “Foods to avoid,” “History they don’t want you to hear” posts are human beings like you and me.  They are not gods with absolute knowledge and the best of intentions, so before you forward and share, do your due diligence. It’s the absolute minimum you should do. Google that person/site. Find out what their credentials are. See what their cyber footprint is and then decide if this person or site is worthy of your time and trust.  

A while ago, I got forwarded one of those history takes, and it was obvious to anyone with a rudimentary grasp of world history or with Google at their fingertips that this “historian” was talking crap. To be fair, she didn’t claim to be a historian. Yet, people were sharing her videos rattling off nonsense as gospel truth, and decrying how they were taught ‘lies’ at school just based on the say-so of a woman in her living room.

Then, there was another person whose viral video giving health advice reached me via WhatsApp. Again, this person doesn’t seem to have any training whatsoever that would make her qualified for the role she was assuming, yet folks were swearing by her.  And the most preposterous of all, for months, there was a popular physician on TikTok, a young South African doctor with a huge following and lots of advice to dispense. He also sold drugs for all sorts of things.

He posted videos of himself doing rounds at work, stethoscope around his neck. `Folks were sharing his medical advice, hanging on to his every word, buying the drugs he sold, until a (new) follower decided that if they were to take medical advice from someone on social media, they needed to know that the guy was kosher. 

Rather than following the herd, this person wrote to the school this young doctor graduated from. They had never heard of him. That was the beginning of the end for the TikTok doctor. His lawyers now claim that rather than he impersonating a doctor, the 21-year-old was simply entertaining his audience. Flabbergastingly, even with the evidence against him and the utterly ridiculous defence, his new TikTok channel has 50,000 followers.

In this day and age when content is monetised, and folks will do anything for fame (and money), it behoves you – unless you want to willingly be a mugu – to always think before you believe any Dick and Harry on social media claiming to be an expert on whatever. If you’re not walking around taking advice from strangers you meet on the street or in the market or on the bus seriously, why do you think that some stranger with a camera and social media, and intentions that may not be entirely pure is the one you should be paying attention to?

I don’t understand it. Why are so many of us so willing to discard our common sense when it has to do with social media ‘gurus’? At what point does one think it’s a good idea to buy drugs off a “doctor” on TikTok? Or to change their diet off a “nutritionist” on Instagram?

I am not saying that there aren’t real experts on social media – like a market, it has both the genuine and the fake – but my plea is to make sure that if you are listening to anyone, that you are selectively paying attention to the real experts. Whatever they are claiming to be, is there proof outside of them just saying that they are what they say they are? If you can find none, that is maybe ONE good reason to tune them out, and not go clogging your groups with their videos. We have enough to do dealing with fake news.


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