Social media, technology, behavioural changes, biologists

Social media, technology causing alarming behavioural changes, say biologists

Social media and new technology is giving rise to misinformation and behavioural changes, note biologists and ecologists in a research published in science journal PNAS earlier this month.

Seventeen researchers from different fields came together and termed technology’s impact as a “crisis discipline”. A crisis discipline is a field which requires quick intervention without waiting to know the complete picture definitively, Recode reported.

The paper argues that the collective behavioural effect of technology is not understood.

As evidence it cites the lack of initiative to effectively deal with the infodemic of misinformation during COVID-19. The paper also warns of the unintended consequences of technology on “election tampering, disease, violent extremism, famine, racism, and war.”

Researchers have hence, called everyone to action.

Carl Bergstrom, a biology professor at the University of Washington, is concerned about the behaviour and opinion moulding capabilities of internet technologies.

She told Recode that people are particularly vulnerable to the spread of misinformation and disinformation.

“Incidents like research papers suggesting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 and anti vaccination campaigns are serious concerns. It is even more alarming when leaders end up promoting it,” the publication reported.

“You can create an information environment where misinformation seems to spread organically. And also [these communities can] be extremely vulnerable to targeted disinformation. We don’t even know the scope of that yet,” Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom wants to find a solution to smoothly deal with the crisis at hand. She is concerned about the effect of information on human well-being, on democracy, on health and on the ecosystem.

“There’s no reason why good information will rise to the top of any ecosystem we’ve designed.”

Researchers are hearing counter arguments like misinformation doesn’t change anyone’s behaviour but the evidence to back the research is profound.

Bergstrom is concerned there isn’t enough talk about the ‘large-scale structural changes’ of technology on behavioural change.

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