As we spend our days practising social distancing, we turn to social media to stay connected and up-to-date on the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as many of us know, social media is also a source of fake news. From at-home remedies for Coronavirus to news that the virus has been developed as a biochemical weapon, Helicopter spraying disinfectant in some specific countries and even sniffing cocaine to sterilize one’s nostrils of the Coronavirus spread, we have heard it all.
False information is often spread because people are afraid and don’t know what they are dealing with. Learning the basics, such as the symptoms, how they spread, etc., can help identify the misinformation.
Identifying Hoax Remedies
We are constantly looking for remedies; things like eating or drinking certain things to cure COVID-19 and fake treatments can put people’s lives in danger. Yes, sometimes things can be harmless, such as increased spice in foods to increase immunity and others, but what about dangerous suggestions such as drinking bleach to kill the virus? Our responsibility is to be aware of these pieces of information floating all over the internet and not to encourage the passing of information that we don’t ourselves understand entirely.
When someone does suggest a remedy, do make sure to research, double-check and be on guard.
Importance of Verification
From information such as which country has the most cases to political statements made by leaders, trusted websites such as PolitiFact and Snopes could be used for information verification. These sites serve as fact-checkers and are useful in identifying false information.
It is also essential that during times like these, we look at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) situation reports, which are updated on an hourly basis, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Misinformation being spread in India.
The misinformation circulated in our country included using unprescribed/unproven methods for disease cure and spreading communal hatred.
- The circulation of fake news that special train services are running in India led thousands of migrant workers to congregate in railway stations.
- Elected representatives believed that cow urine and cow dung could prevent the virus, while another distributed cloves for they believed in its ability to cure the disease as it has been ‘energized by mantras.’
- A Tiktok video, which was shared among some people, advised eating the fruit of a Datura plant, which is poisonous. Eleven people were hospitalized after following the video’s instructions, which claimed to be a cure for COVID-19.
Another instance was that misinformation was also used to target religious minorities and trigger islamophobia in the country. After the gathering of Muslims in the Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque, fake news was circulated that the group members have spat on doctors, misbehaved, and tried to spread the virus.
A Muslim man was beaten to death in Delhi after rumours circulated that he was spreading the virus. He was taken to a temple and asked to denounce his faith to be taken to a hospital.
Measures taken to curb the spread of false information:
Facebook has created a COVID-19 helpdesk chatbot on messenger to help provide authentic information to its users. It also instantly removes ads claiming cures and medicines for prevention against COVID-19.
The Governments in different states have started platforms on which information can be verified. The Karnataka police launched a platform to check whether the news is fake or real. “Launching now: Karnataka State Police FactCheck – Don’t fall for fake news, factcheck.ksp.gov.in,” tweeted Director General of Police Praveen Sood. The public can submit fake news for verification. Telecom companies had also replaced the caller tunes of users with a mandatory explaining of the disease to make people aware and alert to its symptoms.
How aware are we? Communal hatred spreads fast, so before believing or sharing any information about the pandemic or otherwise, take time and think about these three questions: Who is the source of information? What is the evidence supporting the information? And what do other sources say?
A social media joke suggesting that lions had been freed to keep people off the streets in Moscow was passed around as if it were true. What may have started as a joke for some may seem like the reality for others. It is our online civic responsibility to answer these questions ourselves first and then distinguish the reliability of the information.