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Coronavirus Pandemic And The Effects Of Increasing Fake News Around The World

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

In a recent report coming from Iran, over 300 people were killed and 1000 infected due to the spread of fake news that poison kills coronavirus. These people allegedly ingested Methanol as a drug to cure coronavirus. It has been said that the incident was caused as a result of the spread of the fake report all over the internet in the country. With this news coming along, the concern over fake news has increased more than ever.

At a time when the whole world is suffering from an epidemic, journalism has a great role to play. Journalists, just like emergency service providers during this epidemic, have gone on to risk their own life just so as to feed people with valid news. In this good cause, social media platforms also have helped a lot. But it’s also unfortunate that a lot of people are intentionally or unintentionally sharing fake news that is affecting lives all over the world. As the director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in February this year, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.”

How To Identify Fake News?

The present is a situation when coronavirus is in trend on all social media platforms. Some narrow-minded people are taking advantage of this trend and are creating fake contents about the virus. You might have noticed it on YouTube as well. People who are not experts or have no academic knowledge about the virus or epidemiology have gone forward to talk about this just to make their content trend. Messages like, “I’m no expert, but…” or “Experts have said that…” have been part of thousands of WhatsApp groups. People tend to take screenshots of every unusual report and put it in their WhatsApp stories without doing their own research on the report. Here are some tips I have used to identify fake news-

  • Mark a message that is kind of path-breaking or unusual. Search it on the internet whether it is true or not.
  • Source of information, or ‘who is backing up the information’ is also one of the important aspects to take a note of.
  • Technical awareness is important. Like most of the digital contents or photos can be identified as fake by many measures like the ‘fonts in which it is written’. Let me simplify it for you. If someone puts up a photo of breaking news from a television channel, but you know the actual theme or fonts in which the TV channel usually shows breaking news, then you can easily mark that screenshot as probable fake news. Next step is to Google search it and confirm whether it’s fake or not.
  • If the report or advisory (claimed to have been generated by established authorities) is in text format, but has errors like spelling mistakes; chances are high that it’s fake.
  • If the message redirects to a website link, do check its authenticity. Sometimes some links redirect to fake links which might mislead people. For instance, might be replaced by to mislead people. So we must check the URL carefully and stay away from filling up with any personal information.
  • Frequency of shares can also be a criterion for a piece of news to be fake. It creates hype among people and in most cases, you tend to just believe it without doing research of your own.

This way we can just mark down a report as fake. A confirmation test will be searching it over the internet.

What Is The Government Doing Against Fake News About Coronavirus?

In a recent advisory to all the social media platforms, the government has shown its deep concern over fake news being spread. Under the Information Technology (intermediaries’ guidelines) rules 2011 notified under Section 79 of the act, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology urged all social media platforms to:

  • Initiate awareness campaign on their platforms for the users not to upload/circulate any false news/information concerning
    Coronavirus which are likely to create panic among the public and disturb the public order and social tranquillity.
  • Take immediate action to disable/remove such contents hosted on their platforms on priority basis.
  • Promote dissemination of authentic information related to Coronavirus as far as possible.

It is to be mentioned that, these social media platforms have already joined hands with WHO to regulate contents posted in their platforms. The government of India is still in talks with those platforms for further campaigns that could be possible with social media help.

How Does Fake News Impact People?

Let me keep this article limited to talking about the most affected due to fake news, that is the uneducated or illiterate people in rural areas. From my research in my village, I found out that most of the elderly people don’t have many sources of information. They listen to what is passed by others. Usually, middle-aged people in villages who are just introduced to social media like WhatsApp tend to consume news from WhatsApp forwards only. This leads to the whole area being fed the fake news. For instance, a few days ago, PM Modi asked people to clap or make a sound as a gesture of thankfulness staying inside the house to the people who are constantly serving corona victims. It’s great that people actually followed that, but the message that was circulated was wrong. Most of the villagers thought it was to drag away the virus. Similarly, WhatsApp forwards said that the virus has a lifespan of 12 hours on the surface, so janata-curfew was aimed to kill the virus that way. But later the information turned out to be completely false. There are more fake forwards produced daily that reach out to the crowd and have a serious impact on them.

Responsibility As A Citizen Against Fake News

A lot of times, even educated people tend to make the mistake of sharing fake news. It’s not always about education, but about awareness at the same time. When we see fake news being spread, we should not hesitate to tell them that it’s fake and vice versa. We need to understand the impact of a voice against fake news. If one voice can prevent a single ‘forward’, then it would absolutely add up to the fight against the cause.

The coronavirus epidemic threat is real. Although scientists around the world are trying their best, there is no vaccine yet developed against the virus. Due to the misinformation spread around, people often tend to undermine the epidemic. It is us, who are aware of the seriousness of the situation who have to come forward to aware people. We can help just by doing two things – Stay home and stay strong against fake news. Let’s understand this and do our bit against this threat.

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  1. Sumit Acharya

    Always fascinated by your content and the words you use. Big fan bro.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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