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How celebrities contribute to disinformation

How celebrities contribute to disinformation

Their influence can be a two-edged sword in the digital era

Celebrities play a key role in many spheres outside of their own. Whether they are participating in political campaigns or charity events, they can generate a lot of interest and attention to the given topic. Because of this, it is useful to discuss the influence of famous people on disinformation, for example in the light of Covid 19.

Regarding this issue, some questions arise, and they will be discussed separately below.

How do social networks and influencers provoke or create misinformation?

The Reuters Institute researched over 220 celebrity posts on the topic of COVID for three months during the start of the pandemic (January-March 2020). It became clear that the most frequent distortion of information occurred through the personal stories of famous people or their relatives.

This is the case, for example, with the famous US rapper Nicki Minaj who tweeted about the harmful effects of COVID-19 vaccines by sharing a story of how her cousin’s friend experienced negative side effects related to his sexual potency after getting the jab. Immediately after her statement, the authorities in the country where the alleged case occurred (Trinidad and Tobago) said that no case of a harmful side effect after vaccination had been identified.

Such a publication generally causes a lot of interest and people tend to be more inclined to accept information if it is presented by famous people (as in the case of Nicki Minaj). But the overall information provided by her was from a dubious perspective and it remains uncertain how truthful it was.

Photos, videos and comments

Such posts may seem harmless at first glance, but the reality is that they can have severe consequences. For example, as mentioned by the Reuters Institute, a famous person can encourage us to wash our hands more often (something that is known to be beneficial), drink more water, or eat certain food. These tips are nothing more than well-known proven facts that support general health.

But when, for example, a celebrity suggests that we must take a specific substance to deal with Covid 19, then we already have a false statement or at least a difficult one to defend. This is precisely where celebrities play a key role. Many times, we come across influencers who encourage us to buy and consume one substance or another, with the idea of leading healthier lives, however, many such claims are not based on scientific evidence. An example of that are the weight-loss or detox teas, promoted by celebrities, such as singer Cardi B, on Instagram.

Here it is appropriate to mention not only the stories but also the pictures that are being spread for the purpose of disinformation. In today's world where we can easily learn to work with photoshop, it is not surprising that there are so many falsified images of famous people – the so-called deepfakes. The goals are usually to show a way of life that has nothing to do with the truth; or to influence opinions and purchasing habits in a deceitful manner; as well as many others.

Are social platforms able to deal with this strand of disinformation?

According to the Reuters Institute, 59% of fake posts remain active on Twitter without a direct warning label, the number is 27% for YouTube and 24% for Facebook. When it comes to Facebook and Instagram, it can be mentioned that there are people who fact-check the posts that are published daily.

These people do not work directly for the company itself but act as a third party. In the event that they discover a publication that is a misrepresentation of facts and generally a source of disinformation, they notify the company, urging further action. The post itself can be completely deleted, it can be temporarily removed, or the author can be blocked.

In conclusion, it can be said that disinformation, unintentionally or on purpose, is spread effectively by celebrities. Effectively, because the celebrities themselves cause great interest, people are much more inclined to believe them and identify with them, as outlined in this research article.

If a politician or a company shares a statement with us, we won't be as inclined to believe them as we perceive these institutions as biased. So, in the case of pandemics, it is important to remember that truly reliable health information can only be provided by medical persons and professionals in the field.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union.



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