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