What just happened? Moderators of some of the most popular subreddits have written an open letter to the administration, calling for a ban on any subreddit created with the sole objective of spreading medical disinformation and undermining efforts to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the open letter, the moderators expressed their concerns over the consequences of the spreading of misinformation. Until now, disinformation about Covid-19 has "been allowed to spread readily through inaction and malice" throughout Reddit.
The administration promised to take a stance against the problem, but until this day, it has only quarantined one problematic subreddit, which is said to have "barely [reduced] traffic and does little to stop misinformation."
Out of a broader set of claims made by these problematic subreddits, the most common to see are:
- The pandemic doesn't exist
- Wearing a face mask suffocates you
- This is just a regular flu virus
- It's a bioweapon
With these claims being repeated so often, misinformed people start to believe in them and trust they're correct as they see others in the same boat, creating some kind of hive-mind effect in these communities.
If not dealt with, misinformation can cost lives. For example, unsafe medical advice such as promoting the ingestion or injection of cattle dewormers has been spreading in these subreddits. A known side effect of taking these is sudden death. Although it may sound ridiculous for some, the increase of this practice to treat Covid-19 symptoms forced the FDA to issue a warning about it.
To prevent any more damage, Reddit is asked to "take ownership of their website" by removing the medical misinformation from the platform. Reddit hasn't responded to the letter yet.
The list of subreddits supporting the cause of halting the spreading of Covid-19 misinformation is immense, ranging from small subreddits with less than 500K subscribers to those with over 10 million. From all the ones presented on this list, the most popular ones (+20 million subscribers) are r/aww, r/dataisbeautiful, r/EarthPorn, r/pics, and r/showerthoughts.
Image credit: Brett Jordan