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How To Protect Yourself From The Fake News ‘Fakedemic’ During The Lockdown

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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.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, in India, an avalanche of misinformation and fake news related to the disease has widespread across social media, creating social disorder, panic and confusion among people. Misinformation and fake news on COVID-19 ranges from advising people on an unverified home remedy, the origin of the outbreak, suggesting people to use untested medicines, recommending unapproved diet options, spreading the rumour of how harmful it is to buy milk packets or consume poultry, and conniving fancy conspiracy theories on the pandemic being a biological warfare by China.

If one starts searching for fake news, the person will end up discovering thousands of articles on misinformation propagated on COVID-19 on the internet. Most of these fake news articles originate from Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, making it untraceable to find the source as the application provides end-to-end encryption. After the first case of COVID-19 in India was reported in January, social media got flooded with fake news on the disease, to which many people fell prey and started creating panic around themselves.

The number of fake news articles that India generates on a daily basis is beyond counting. However, it indicates that the country consumes fake news and misinformation more than any other country in the world. The reasons for such fake news are still unknown. Cybercrime experts and fact-checkers claim that few generate it for communal divide, creating social confusion and panic, while few generate these as they are jobless. It also comes into notice that few generate fake news because they want people to follow guidelines, but they exaggerate the message, making people fear the severe consequences.

Fake News On COVID-19

One of the funniest piece of misinformation I came across is: “The diagnosis of coronavirus is known while sitting at home. Hold your breath for 50-seconds and if anyone passes it, they don’t have the disease.” While looking for the authenticity of this message, I called upon a family-friend doctor and he said, “It is not possible to tell if you have coronavirus or not based on how long you can hold your breath. These things are completely false and practising this without verifying might lead to complicated consequences later.”

People claim that drinking hot water or gargling with salt water will kill the virus in the throat and it cannot be incubated. However, a report published by BBC said, “There is no biological mechanism that would support the idea that you can just wash a respiratory virus down into your stomach and kill it.” Professor Trudie Lang at the University of Oxford said, “Infections such as the coronavirus enter the body via the respiratory tract when you breathe in. Some of them might go into your mouth, but even constantly drinking water isn’t going to prevent you from catching the virus. Nonetheless, drinking water and staying hydrated is generally a good medical advice.

There is another piece of advice, such as consuming garlic, tulsi and turmeric will kill the virus. But these things will help in increasing immunity and not kill the virus. A WHO report says that garlic has some antimicrobial properties, but there is no evidence to indicate that garlic can protect people from coronavirus. If one sits to start finding fake news and misinformation on the internet, they will end up with thousand such articles, wasting their entire day.

How To Identify Fake News?

Most of the fake news contains a mixture of correct information and data, making it difficult to spot the misinformation. Fake news and misinformation run on two circumstances; first, when the message claims to have a foolproof solution to the problem or the highest level of certainty, it is enough to be suspicious about; second, when the message is exaggerated and contains emotional, surprising and upsetting elements. This human interest angle is widely used to lure people in. If you come across any of these, be suspicious and verify!

How To Fact-Check?

There are a few rules you should abide by while finding the authenticity of the message or information you receive. These rules don’t just apply to the pandemic but also for future events:

  1. Finding The Source

If you receive such information on your WhatsApp or through any social media platform, do not trust it blindfolded. Chances are it might be fake. Always look for the source. Check the message on the internet, cross-check whether it has been published by at least a few prominent media houses. If not, then label it as fake!

  1. Structure Of Writing 

If the source of the message claims to have originated from any media house or government agency, the important thing to check is the way of writing. A media house or any government agency will have their message written in flair English with no grammatical error. Fake news usually contains incorrect syntax with a lot of unnecessary punctuation, fancy words, and no capitalisation.

  1. Misleading

Most of the fake news contains a replicated social media account or website that looks very similar to that of the authentic one. One such example is the use of website www.primeministerofindia.com, which confuses people with www.pmindia.gov.in. Similarly, the mention of @NDTVNews is a mimic Twitter handle of NDTV News Feed @ndtvfeed.

  1. Emphasis On Sharing

Fake news will always put much emphasis on sharing. It will contain the word “share” at least twice. It will ask people for maximum sharing. Be sceptical if you come across any such message.

  1. Reverse Search Engine

A simple reverse search on the internet will save you time. If you come across any government website or media house reporting on it, or if it has been mentioned by AltNews or Boom, then the news can be considered authentic. Twitter handle @PIBFactCheck is another useful tool for examining the authenticity of news released by the government.

Trustworthy Sources on COVID-19

There are a lot of websites that report news on COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is the best source to fin out about the disease, tips on prevention, and getting advisory on the pandemic alongside, getting knowledge on the myths related to the disease. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) is another credible source where you will know about the disease, as well as be able to track the accurate number of cases in India. Websites such as MyGov, Press Information Bureau and DD News will be at a better position to tell you on the outbreak.

At the State-level, the State Health Ministry website, website of the Directorate of Information & Public Relations, and State MyGov website can be checked to confirm the authenticity of a news piece. @COVIDNewsByMIB, twitter handle of the Government, conveys all the news related to COVID-19 in India. You can also follow authentic media houses, be it TV, print, digital or radio. But make sure you cross-verify with 3-4 other media houses.

How Can You Contribute?

Like everyone else, you might be a victim of incessant misinformation and fake news on your mobile. If you discover that the news is fake, the first thing you should do is inform the sender, most of them may not be aware of it. Educate them at your level, as well as inform in your family/friends WhatsApp group about the consequences of spreading fake news and misinformation. Ask them not to share if they receive any, and ask them to inform their family members/relatives about the same at their level as well.

Spread awareness in your vicinity and all social media groups. Inform how harmful misinformation is and how it creates a social divide, panic and confusion among people. If you wish to bust the message and make the public aware at large, pass the message to fact-checkers and ask them to verify the authenticity.

If you think the message will harm the public and disturb the law and order, report it to the police by dialing 100 or calling your nearest police station. Spreading awareness and educating your loved ones is the best vaccine to fight the “fakedemic” – a pandemic of fake news.

A tip shared by Harmeet Singh, ADGP, Assam Police mentioned,

He also said, “In all cases of using social media, #IndividualSocialResponsibility should always be the mantra.

Don’t believe everything on the internet; fact-check, spread awareness and educate your loved ones, and above all, don’t spread fake news. Compulsorily follow the government advisory, stay safe, stay indoors. Let’s fight fake news whilst fighting COVID-19.

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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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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.

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 native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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