A Cornell University researcher worried about the “irrevocable role” social media has played in the COVID-19 pandemic has taken to TikTok to disseminate the “reality and facts.”
Postdoctoral Fellow Asher Williams, along with Information Science Professor Mor Naaman, looked into “online information ecosystems” which have “contribut[ed] to unraveling patterns surrounding misinformation and the pandemic,” The Cornell Daily Sun reports.
Williams, who joined a TikTok initiative called Halo earlier this year to help “unspool the bias” in COVID-19 coverage, said “It is extremely unfortunate that mask-wearing and even vaccination became political.”
The Halo initiative was started by the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the United Nations’ Verified initiative.
Ironically, Williams said her TikTok videos have been met with skepticism by many who see her as an “agent of the system.” In particular, black people aren’t used to a vocal government effort regarding medical assistance, so they’re hesitant.
However, the fact that TikTok’s parent company is run by the Communist Chinese doesn’t get a mention, nor how the World Health Organization (WHO), an arm of the U.N., is intertwined with that government.
The reels made by Williams address everything from the nomenclature behind the virus variants to tackling information disorder — inaccurate information she sees on TikTok. In her videos, she tries to pack a punch while being humorous.
Following an anecdotal video by a skeptic citing breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals as evidence that the vaccines are ineffective in preventing the spread of the virus, Williams was quick to dispel the misgivings of that presumption.
Using academic publications, Williams discussed that evidence actually shows that vaccinated individuals are less likely to contract the virus and show quicker improvement — the high transmission rate of the delta variant is characteristic of lag in herd immunity.
“What I have noticed is that people with misinformation tend to be very vocal about it, and tend to be sharing it a lot,” Williams said. “And then the people who have the facts, [are saying] ‘Oh, it’s a personal health decision.’ I want to appeal to people who are in that second group to be more vocal, speak up — it’s a pandemic.”
Naaman added he would like to see “tighter regulation” in the social media realm to “prevent the spread of misinformation that is endangering millions of lives.”