These are challenging and dangerous times. A coronavirus vaccine has been approved and will soon be distributed, but at the same time, a new surge of COVID-19 cases is upon us.
The false sense of security as people feel a vaccine would soon be available to all, may be their demise. Hebrew University experts estimate that hundreds will become seriously ill and further hundreds will die by February.
And all around us, falsehoods are being spread, from outright lies to complex manipulations, all magnified on social media platforms, Facebook or WhatsApp, and when the lies are magnified enough, they even make their way to mainstream media outlets to draw in a bigger audience.
The amount of garbage is overwhelming. A "doctor" from somewhere abroad explains there is no coronavirus, a post warns the COVID-19 vaccine will cause sterility in women, a document from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taken out of context, while an Israeli physician who has no training in relevant fields, has found a link between the vaccine and a terminal muscular degenerative illness.
There is a link to an article that warns not to vaccinate children – they will not be given the vaccine at this point.
A post claims masks are dangerous, citing false information, and another that claims vaccines use cyanide - lies.
One post attributed to a doctor, claims the vaccine contains a protein that causes coronavirus to self-destruct. There are no proteins in Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines from and coronavirus is not made to self-destruct either.
Let us not forget the conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and those with varied, often hidden agendas.
But Facebook cares not one bit.
All these posts are liked and shared and spread far and wide. You hear them on the street, in the laundromat and from your grocer who tells you that Bill Gates stands to make a killing from vaccines.
Everyone has a smartphone with proof.
Facebook announced early this month that it would remove erroneous content about coronavirus and vaccines from its platforms including Instagram. It would not enable lies, particularly about dangers from the new vaccines. But this would take some time, Facebook said.
But we don't have time. The damage is already being done. Real physical damage that is the result of false information.
Facebook also intends to remove fallacious content in the United States and Europe but will not interfere with content posted in Thai, Urdu or Hebrew. We the natives, the local tribes on social media, will continue to generate revenue for the company though it cares very little about our wellbeing. It is too hard to monitor obscure languages. It is too much of an investment.
And as lies spread, regulators sleep. In Israel as in South America.
A post that started spreading in Peru in early November showed a picture of soldiers standing next to some nurses. "There is a forced vaccination campaign," the post said. "This is just the beginning."
And the lie will spread from one person to the next and the next will infect someone who will infect someone else who will die as the inevitable result of these lies.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said that an individual falsely shouting “fire” in a theater was not exercising free speech. It was “substantively evil,” Homes said.
But we are not deliberating free speech. We are referring to the policy of corporations operating for profit.
Our government, which is quick to impose restrictions on us, should perhaps show courage to stand up to those corporations.
It can add a small addendum to the coronavirus law that was passed in the early days of the pandemic, fining internet giants that facilitate the spreading of lies that cause harm to public health.
If a lie is not removed within 12 hours from when Facebook or Instagram was alerted – the company will be fined, the addendum should say.
The money collected could be used to purchase much needed medical supplies from personal protection equipment to ventilators.
If the fake news pandemic continues, that money will be put to good use.