Social media is a great way for people to share information, organise and fight against humanity's ills. But like any tool, it can be misused. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to take thousands of lives around the world every day, there’s a lot of discussion about what should be done to stop the spread. Unfortunately, that discussion is often polluted with misinformation from people who are either underqualified, uninformed or have some sort of malicious intent.
So how do we sift the reliable facts from the nonsense? Well, social media already has systems to let us know when we can trust that a famous person is who they say they are - the blue tick. And surely the people with the facts, rather than just the fame, are who we need to listen to at this time. This thought motivated Nordic health brand Tarveystalo, along with its agency TBWA\Helsinki, to suggest ‘The Essential Influencers’ initiative, calling for a similar way to recognise and verify scientists, doctors and public health officials who are researching the virus and battling the common enemy with accurate information.
Terveystalo joined the fight against misinformation with an open letter to social media giants Facebook, Twitter, Google and Snapchat. Inspired by this simple yet powerful idea, LBB’s Alex Reeves asked Veera Siivonen, Terveystalo’s senior vice president of marketing and communications and Lauri Gran, creative at TBWA\ Helsinki, to talk us through it.
LBB> Where did this idea begin?
Lauri> The idea stemmed from a number of conversations on social media channels. We noticed that people were talking directly with professionals and trying to contradict them with hearsay.
LBB> And how did the initial thought morph into the concept of a new type of social verification?
Veera> The idea started from the celebrity badge and the dilemma that celebrities are verified even though they are not very essential at the moment compared to medical experts.
Lauri> The concept of a new verification system for essential influencers was based on the traditional verified symbol and as a relatively small player in the global market we decided that the best way to address the social media giants was to write an open letter. The letter itself is only a means to an end, we want to begin a discussion around the importance of reliable information from reliable sources.
LBB> What role have you seen social media playing in the coronavirus crisis?
Veera> It is distributing a lot of misinformation - the pandemic is used for different kinds of political and other agendas. One terrible example is how 5G towers have been burned down as people were convinced by social media discussions that they (falsely) were behind the pandemic.
Lauri> As social media is a level playing field anyone can create and share virtually anything. The same goes for information regarding Covid-19. Social media giants can’t be held responsible for what people share, but they can do their part in helping reliable information stand out.
LBB> Why did you decide it was the right role for Terveystalo to play in the pandemic?
Veera> Terveystalo cares deeply about health, and this pandemic and the misinformation in social media both require global action. This was an idea we could just not dismiss when we had it. We thought we just needed to do something about it and not just stay silent.
LBB> What were the major decisions or scary moments in creating the campaign?
Veera> ‘Should we do this?’ was of course the big decision. It was a clear yes from the beginning.
So far no scary moments.
Lauri> As we’re trying to help professionals be heard there haven’t been any major scares yet, but once we start talking to the social media giants themselves things might get interesting.
LBB> Your aims to change the way social media works are ambitious! What do you want and how do you see those goals being achieved?
Veera> First of all, we would like this to be discussed to get the change started. Of course ideally there would be a standardised criteria set by for example the WHO and the social media giants would follow them.
Lauri> We want to do our part by ensuring that those who need to be heard are heard. As this is a life or death situation any information that helps prevent the loss of lives is more than welcome. Our goal is simple, a standardised tool that can be used to help social media users identify experts from the general public. Of course this would require collaboration between the different social media companies, but we believe that if one of the giants uses the icon others will follow.
LBB> What has happened so far since it launched? Have you been surprised, annoyed or encouraged by people's reactions?
Veera> Too early to say. Our own people are proud.
Lauri> Right now we’re waiting for a reply from the companies. As we’ve only just begun there haven’t been any surprises, but only time can tell what the future holds.