Emirates Airline Festival of Literature: Time to fight both pandemic and infodemic

Dubai - The panelists weighed social media as a pivotal force in perpetuating disinformation, across the various media outlets.

By Somya Mehta

Published: Fri 5 Feb 2021, 11:25 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 Feb 2021, 12:00 AM

Facts are replaced by feelings and the line between evidence and ‘alternative facts’ is becoming increasingly blurred, opined medical experts at the the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday.

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In a session titled ‘Fighting the Anti-Facts Movement’, panelists — Jay Jayamohan, a consultant paediatric neurosurgeon and author of the best-seller Everything That Makes Us Human: Case Notes of a Children’s Brain Surgeon; Dr Rupy Aujla, a UK-based GP and Sunday Times bestselling author; and Nafea Alyasi, a novelist and medical professional combatting Covid-19 in the UAE, addressed concerns around the pandemic and conspiracy theories driving the anti-vaccine movement.

“Social media, in particular, rewards negativity. It exploits the very weaknesses of human mind as we’re naturally drawn towards negative bias. When someone is saying something outside the traditional narrative, that’s what we are intuitively going to be drawn towards and that’s what fuels misinformation”, said Dr Rupy Aujla.

“In an information-fatigued society, fear mongering and fake news have become serious challenges, especially in the medical field, plagued by junk science, conspiracy theories and outdated data misconstrued as facts.

The panelists weighed social media as a pivotal force in perpetuating disinformation, across the various media outlets. “Social media is like a big ocean, you can get any answers you want. Sometimes, you get the wrong answers because you ask the wrong people”, added Nafea Alyasi.

This infodemic has also impacted the ongoing vaccination drives across countries, where people have been increasingly worried about the potential side effects and legitimacy of the vaccines. The UAE has been among the first countries to receive the Sinopharm and Pfizer vaccinations and run large-scale vaccine drives across the nation.

Panelist Nafea Alyasi attributed the country’s success with on-going vaccine drives to the trust that the people of the UAE have in the government.

“In the beginning, people were a little hesitant to take the vaccines because they were not aware of the side effects. But as soon as people saw the leaders of the country being the first ones to take the vaccine, they started to believe in it. The more people that took the vaccine, the more trust they gained in the process.’”

The session concluded with the panelists encouraging people to get their information from trusted websites, medical organisations and government authorities, mitigating the risk of being trapped in the fake news cycle at all times.


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