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19.04.2020 Feature Article

Are you also fed up with the deluge of social media messages in these times of Covid-19?

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It was bad even before the coronavirus took hold of an unprepared world. Now it has even become worse. I am talking of all these social media messages bombarding us. Each day, I have to delete lots, many of which I don’t read or watch or even download.

Many of us belong to a few WhatsApp groups. According to The Economist, WhatsApp platforms are the most popular social media outlet in Africa and WhatsApp groups have typically more members in Africa than elsewhere in the world.

We have a problem. The availability of cheap smartphones makes many people think they have something important they want everybody to hear. It is now easy to make a talking-head video with yourself as the expert dispensing advice to others about the latest covid-19 cures. You can often do this all alone. It is far easier than writing an opinion piece to a website which may not even post it.

Some people just take particular delight in forwarding messages to others. These people do not generate these messages but push what they get from others to yet others. They may not even watch the videos themselves. They just enjoy being the first to send it to you.

Most videos, images or write-ups are not date-marked. So the senders don’t know how current a particular item is and the recipients won’t know either. Imagine a video clip that starts with “Breaking News”! But that breaking news was three weeks ago!

It can be irritating when someone sends you a video that you saw months ago but didn’t think it worthy of imposing on others. Then there are all these repeated posts you will receive several times on different platforms. Sometimes, you share stuff, and one of your recipients, after a few days, sends it back to you as new stuff! Look into your Photos and count the numbers of repeated covid-19 related items there. If you are a Ghanaian, you are likely to receive the same posts.

There are some badly made home videos that are 10-15 minutes long. The sender expects you to leave whatever you’re doing to watch that trash. I know you’re not forced to watch it. But you’re forced to receive it and perhaps download it only to find how useless it is. These impose burdens on Ghanaians who would rather spend their credit on more important things. Think of that next time you share a huge file with friends in Ghana.

Even when the files are small and the videos are just two to three minutes long, spending time to watch many of such videos a day can be quite a burden on your life even in a time of lockdown!

I am not saying everything you receive from friends is trash (even though most are…). There can be some very good ones including some nice covid-19 jokes to brighten your day. And there may just be some important information making the rounds that you have not yet seen. But how do you separate the wheat from the chaff in times like these when we know so little about the virus?

Facebook has placed a few limitations on the widespread sharing of messages in order to stem the spread of false news. You cannot share an item with more than five persons at a time on WhatsApp. There is an encrypted counter, available only to sender and recipient, that keeps track of how many times a message is forwarded. But people easily bypass such rules: send in several batches of five and copy and paste or share videos and Images straight from your gallery to avoid that offending “Forwarded” identification.

I wish to share with readers what I, personally, do to avoid some of the worst excesses of shared messages.

  • If an item starts with an attribution to some expert and makes great effort to tell you to share the message, that alone is a sign NOT TO share it. Any sensible person knows which message to share without being told. Often, the most useless posts are the ones which make the desperate appeals to you to share them.
  • Just look at the first few seconds and delete. What is good will announce itself from the very first frame.
  • Another strategy to deal with, especially, the so-called talking-head videos is to wait until someone else on your platform has watched it and recommends it. Of course, this strategy doesn’t work if it is sent personally to you. Then you have to judge if it’s from a trusted source that will not waste your time with another useless video.
  • People also mark themselves by the type of material they share. You generally get an idea of whose shared items you will want to read or watch – always. Your trusted friends will not send you bad stuff. If you belong to a small platform of like-minded friends, it is easy to trust those friends. For things from unknown sources, reach for your delete button.
  • And, finally, make sure you are not, yourself, a conduit for spreading trash or fake news. Be wary of conspiracy theories which, these days, mainly link the new virus with 5G and the arrival of a so-called anti-Christ. Look carefully at what you are sharing with others and make sure your recipients will find them useful. If you have the slightest doubt about this, do not share it. You don’t want people throwing your messages straight into the dust bin because they know you spread trash! Is it not bad manners to share things you have not, yourself, watched or read to the end?

Dear reader, what strategies do you use? Please, share them with us. I won’t throw them into the dustbin (..)

Kofi Amenyo ([email protected])

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