One of the age-old public health warnings is the risk of catching a contagion when one recklessly ventures into a social gathering.
The aim is not to encourage isolation but to make people aware of the dangers that exist out there.
Recently, we witnessed how people have heeded the public health safety tips such as wearing a face mask, social distancing, and regular washing of hands to shield themselves from contracting COVID19.
While these measures reduce the risk of catching a communicable disease, the same actions could prevent one from catching a contagion ravaging social media platforms.
Out of the many social media platforms, Facebook, from what I have witnessed, makes the enormity of the damage that educational disempowerment has done to the psyche of some Nigerians more apparent. From those who jump to conclusions by merely reading news captions to those who do not understand that humans have biases that influence how we perceive and interpret events, there is always something disconcerting about how information is shared and consumed on social media.
The dearth of logic that characterises how information is consumed on cyberspace, especially on Facebook, pushes one to believe that there are people in cyberspace who think that the ability to speak or write in near-perfect ways is the ultimate proof of infallibility, but psychologists have proven that the human mind is not free from biases.
Therefore, it is foolhardy of anyone on social media to expect that public affairs commentators cannot obscure the truth and amplify alternative facts that conform to their biases.
Many biases can railroad a mind into clinging to a particular way of thinking, even when presented with contradictory facts.
Confirmation bias, for example, makes a person favour information that suits their prior beliefs or values.
Ever wonder why some people prefer trump-up stories over facts? Now you know why. Cognitive bias insulates the mind from applying knowledge in making a judgement. It is a way of suppressing conscience to prove a point.
You can often see an apparent contradiction between an individual’s beliefs and actions. Such misalignment is referred to as cognitive dissonance by psychologists.
Jay Maddock described these biases collectively as systemic errors in how we think about the world.
People who shape public opinion using social media are not free from these biases.
Therefore, whatever narrative they push is invariably peppered with one or more biases.
Some social media users know this fact and thus take most of what they come across with a pinch of salt to maintain their independence of mind.
This approach of not consuming unscrutinised information shields one’s mind from becoming a tool in the hands of mischievous self-proclaimed opinion shapers.
However, there is a cast that unwittingly falls victim to the mind game played by some ‘pundits’ on social media.
This netizens category does not understand these self-proclaimed pundits’ cunning nature.
They (social media influencers) know their followers’ mental weaknesses and exploit them daily.
They have mastered the art of mixing facts and lies to push a political agenda. The danger of their tactic is that once a person begins to buy into their narratives, it makes them see what they read as the absolute truth that shouldn’t be challenged.
Worst still, a person’s mind becomes ossified and impervious to any ray of reasoning.
Like a social contagion, giving credence to lies and half-truths has permeated all demographic groups and social strata layers.
A vast segment of social media users has been insidiously turned into zombies, gobbling at whatever information they come across without questioning its credibility.
How they don’t see what is in plain sight to others beggars every reasonable person’s belief!
Anas Tukur Balarabe is a Lecturer at the Sokoto State University and a PhD candidate at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom.