How social media can break communities, instead of building them

With power comes responsibility. We in the media are always mindful of the impact that our content will have on the wider community. 

It is why we have regulations and editorial policies governing how we collect news and the parameters in which to operate as a news entity, thus ensuring our news content is in the interest of the public and is truthful, fair, independent, is accountable to the reader and has the trust of the public. 

And with the advent of social media in Samoa and the Pacific Islands and its multiple platforms such as Facebook, anyone can wear the two hats of news content creator and publisher. The power is now in your hands like never before, ensuring that your post on social media can either empower or disempower citizens.

But power in the wrong hands can create chaos and lead to pain and misery, just like the Facebook post on Monday by a distraught relative of the 20-year-old mother. The relative blamed vaccination for the death of the baby.

The relative of the infant’s mother said: “This is my cousins’ baby. She was alive the whole week until the doctors vaccinated her and made her die."

The post compelled the M.O.H. Deputy Director General (clinical services), Tevaga Dr. Ponifasio Ponifasio, to refute the claims in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

He said the baby had congenital heart disease – which was a pre-existing medical condition - and they could not save her. 

“The baby was a very sick child since birth with congenital heart disease, respiratory distress and sepsis. Despite sophisticated treatment in the special intensive care unit the poor baby did not survive,” Tegava said. 

“The news about the baby dying from the vaccination is very wrong. We’re sad as this has caused the majority of the parents to doubt the hospital, but nothing like this happened at all.”

It is tragic to see how just one single post on Facebook has misinformed and led the public astray in Samoa, as well as created fear amongst mothers and compelled them to ask questions on whether Samoa’s public health system has addressed and resolved the vaccination issue, following the deaths in July last year of two one-year-old babies in Savai’i. It is time for the users of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to accept responsibility for their posts and go through a verification process – which mind you is also essential for all reporters and journalists – to ensure the content they post is accurate and ticks the box.

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Seeing that the public reaction to the incorrect social media post was massive and instantaneous, we can only conclude that a large cross-section of the population still has concerns about the measles, mumps and rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine, despite a large awareness campaign spearheaded by the M.O.H. The awareness campaign should continue and be held in both urban and rural communities. 

We in the media must also do our bit and warn the public to be weary of the misinformation and the lies often paddled on the various social media platforms including Facebook. Samoans should put their trust in news organisations that are governed by the laws of this country and have set high benchmarks in terms of their news content.

The coronial inquiry – which was recently ordered by the Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson – should also address some of the concerns and fears that members of the public and their families still harbor about the Government’s vaccination programme. 

Ultimately, the vaccination programme should be about saving lives, and not ending lives as some are claiming.

The MOH Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, in April this year appealed to parents to think about the future of their children and ensure that their children are vaccinated.

“We are currently in a critical period where parents and families have fears and suspicions on the vaccine," he said. 

"But vaccinations are not new in Samoa; it has happened ever since before independence; it was through these vaccines that protected the lives of children from various diseases, that [could have] resulted in deaths.

“These vaccines will protect you throughout your lives from encountering diseases.

"We urge our people to consider what is good for their kids, in terms of ridding them of various diseases that can harm them and no parent wants to see their children sick. 

"Vaccination will ensure your child is safe."

Let us exercise more responsibility over what we post on social media, and use these platforms for the good of the community. 

Have a lovely Thursday Samoa and God bless.

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