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By Martin Williams

Councillor at City

Weathering fake news storm

More enduring and potentially hazardous is the Twitter war between anti-vaxxers and those who think vaccination is necessary to cope with the Covid pandemic.

South Africa is in the thrall of a fake news trifecta, with peaks in Covid vaccinations, weather forecasts and national shutdowns.

Contested views are playing out on social media. On Sunday, at full moon, the tide was high with anti-vaxxers in full cry, Jacob Zuma fans clamouring for a repeat of July’s insurrection and meteorologists tweeting up a storm.

Fact or fiction? There is a lot of hot air about cold fronts. The contesting parties include Storm Report SA, Snow Report, Weather Today Southern Africa, LandWater, Severe Weather Alerts SA (Facebook), among others.

After receiving a convincing video about a cold front so severe that there would be snow almost everywhere in South Africa, including Johannesburg, I shared it on a WhatsApp broadcast group.

The response came quick as a flash or a thunderclap.

“DELETE! Official weather service on Twitter says it’s fake news.”

Sure enough, on investigation, @SAWeatherService, which is self-described as “SA’s authoritative voice for weather and climate forecasting”, had indeed labelled the video as a hoax.

But others had their own variations on the cold front theme. Welcome to the strange world of seemingly alternative facts about weather. Who knew?

You may have noticed recently how often dramatic weather forecasts are proved wrong.

Who’s right this time? We’ll know on Friday, or Saturday, or perhaps never.

Full-moon Sunday also saw Zumaphiles trying to whip up a whirlwind of protest with false claims of injustices inflicted on their fading hero.

Thankfully the alarmist shutdown messages didn’t translate into significant disruptions.

More enduring and potentially hazardous is the Twitter war between anti-vaxxers and those who think vaccination is necessary to cope with the Covid pandemic.

Very few of us have enough knowledge of virology, vaccinology or actuarial science to make informed decisions.

Many pretend to know what “the science” says, as if there is one voice for all scientists, which is a false assumption.

Who are the “covidiots”? Are they the anti-vaxxers or the rest, who have supposedly been duped by big pharma and the illuminati?

People who decide not to be vaccinated against Covid, for whatever reason, are not axiomatically stupid candidates for a Darwin award.

Yet many fail to make the distinction between their individual, or family health, and that of the broader public.

Indeed, we are entitled to make decisions based on what we think is best for us personally, as if public health is reserved for others.

Yet such private decisions have public consequences. On social media, there’s a proliferation of extreme views on vaccination.

Insults and slogans are exchanged as if they are profound, compelling arguments. People who are normally rational become wild-eyed zealots when defending their vaccination views.

It is a life and death matter. But a mild dose of scepticism is prescribed for all sides. Irish poet WB Yeats’ glimpsed an anarchic world where “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.

Are we there yet? Pandemic lockdowns have spawned psychological problems. Fake news and extreme views
may be symptoms of these disturbances.

Can we lower the temperature, please? Chill.