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WNIJ Perspectives
Perspectives are commentaries produced by and for WNIJ listeners, from a panel of regular contributors and guests. You're invited to comment on or respond to any Perspective on our Facebook page or through Twitter (@wnijnews), in keeping with our Discussion Policy. If you would like to submit your own Perspective for consideration, send us a script that will run about 90 seconds when read -- that's about 250 words -- and email it to NPR@niu.edu, with "Perspectives" in the subject line.

Perspective: The Vice And Virtue Of Social Media

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With the onset of COVID-19, social media platforms show their virtues and vices once again. Millions are finding connection, entertainment, and solace, a lifeline of virtual community during a truly twisted time.

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Connection with friends is a blast, until someone begins posting conspiracy theories like big pharma, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control are a cabal secretly making the world sick for profits, or opining on highly technical epidemiological research, calling into question both findings and researchers’ assumed unethical motives. COVID-19 is a new phenomenon and it takes time for researchers -- experts -- to understand it, and how to effectively and safely deal with it. Public questioning is important, but when a supermajority of experts form an informed opinion you don’t like, developing conspiracies is not a healthy path.

Now, I truly believe in free speech. After all, I’m on radio. I’m just leery of the effect of unfettered, ill-informed opinion hawking not rooted in facts but conjecture based on limited knowledge. In trying times, marked by distrust of experts and repudiation of facts, people seek reasoning that eases cognitive dissonance, trading logical reasoning and expertise for distrust and conspiracy.

Complex problems, like a pandemic, do require complex explanation, but simultaneously those of us outside that expertise should be cautiously deferential. Like astrophysicist and public science teacher Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, “One of the great challenges of this world is knowing enough about a subject to think you’re right but not enough about a subject to know you’re wrong.”

I am Joseph Flynn and that is my perspective. And to all who have suffered through or lost someone from this virus, my heart and best wishes go out to you.

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