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As someone who has worked for the palm oil industry during exciting and challenging times, I must say it remains a dynamic one. However, it has continued to attract global attention for the wrong reasons.

The onslaught of a digital media landscape has supplied a plethora of information about this significant vegetable oil, but also provided a fertile ground to spread disinformation.

Unverified or bogus scientific information is rife on the Internet and social media networks. When disinformation is posted or shared, it rapidly spreads to thousands.

Social media sites have allowed people to post information without verifying its content unlike print media where information needs to be verified or attributed to a source.  Twitter and Facebook enable ordinary people to share.  Mis- and disinformation are also increasingly transmitted via messaging services such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

For the unsuspecting ones, a visual makes the piece of disinformation appear more credible and acceptable without realizing they have been manipulated.

Figure 1: How information misleads

Misinformation can be defined as any type of information that is spread without the intention to mislead while disinformation, however, refers to the intentional spread of false information, for example driven by political strategies. (Michael Hameleers, Thomas E. Powell, Toni G.L.A. Van Der Meer & Lieke Bos, 2020)

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a wave of disinformation which has not only undermined policy responses at official levels, but has amplified the level of distrust and concern among the ordinary citizens.

Conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, fake remedies and misleading healthcare information have all clouded public debate says OCED; it attributes 88 % of this situation to exchanges via social media platforms.

Transparent, timely and reliable information is an essential resource to empower citizens in the midst of the pandemic. For now, governments have emerged as the most trusted source of information (Figure 2).

Figure 2: A re-ordering of trust

Broadly speaking, the internet has impacted the development of skills and as many put it, brain growth.

On one hand there has been much transformation in the society but on the flip side, it has resulted in people being lazy.

The use of smart phones is a factor behind ‘information’ going viral without verification or attribution to a credible source.

This lazy thinking phenomenon is only likely to remain as consumers stay constantly glued to their smart phones.

The number of smartphone users worldwide now surpasses three billion and is forecast to further grow by several hundred million in the next few years (Figure 3).  China, India, and the United States are the countries with the highest number of smartphone users, with each country easily surpassing the 100 million user mark.

Figure 3: Number of smartphone uses worldwide (billion)

Belvinder Sron
DCEO / MPOC

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