As Covid 19 pandemic unravels, the World Health Organization admitted that humanity is fighting with pandemic as well as infodemic. Infodemic refers to overburdening of information that makes it challenging for an individual to distinguish between truthful and misleading resources. While true information helps to prevent the pandemic-led crisis, false information may escalate it. Lack of digital literacy is one of the contributing factors in the spread of fake news and misinformation. Mass media and social media play an important role in disseminating information in the contemporary world. A piece of information or a message can be forwarded or endorsed through social media, which provides an individual to reach potential audiences without needing substantial resources. During the Covid-19 outbreak, fake news has generated confusion and insecurity among people and influenced the public perception of risk.
Misinformation pandemic worsening Covid 19 Pandemic
The recurrence of COVID-19 has created a global health emergency that has deeply affected our lives. Theories regarding fake remedies or the virus’s origin have been quickly circulating through social media. These types of misinformation provide a false sense of security to an individual and encourage them to take unwanted risks such as not being tested for coronavirus.
It is beyond doubt that the medical community in the country has played an important role during the pandemic, but it has also faced conflicts due to fake news. On one hand, some medical practitioners were inclined to spread alarming news while on the other hand, some supported the non-hazardous nature of Covid-19.
Sometimes, people become so overwhelmed with the flood of information that they do not understand it correctly. The fake information regarding ‘gaumutra’ or cow urine being a cure for COVID-19 went viral and people have developed health issues due to the pathogens in the cow excrement. In the other instance of misinformation, WHO clarified that it has not released a four-step protocol and procedure for lockdown in India, and it was fake which is circulated through social media. Such instances of circulation of fake news, misinformation, or disinformation have consequences that have far-reaching impacts and worsens the pandemic.
Economic and Political Costs of Fake News
In many states, the misinformation led to panic buying of hand sanitizers, surgical masks, and other supplies which led to disrupting the supply chains due to an increase in demand for the products. The poultry and seafood industry was also severely affected as people were convinced that Covid-19 spreads through chicken and fish and started avoiding non-vegetarian foods.
Numerous fake videos spread over WhatsApp and other social media platforms depicting the group of Tablighi Jamaats as “Corona Villains” which was later found out to be falsified by a prominent political party to marginalized communities and portray the minority community as irresponsible. There are endless numbers of fake videos on social media that depicted a certain community as violent and irresponsible. To defeat the coronavirus, we must prioritize “facts and science” over hatred.
Way Forward for managing the fake news
Fake news and misinformation have created significant barriers in the fight against the pandemic for governments at all levels and authorities have issued many clarifications to prevent people from falling for fake information and rumors. The central and state governments have invoked the provisions of (Section 54) of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005 As Information Technology (IT) Act 2008 failed to tackle fake content.
Several social media platforms have taken a lead in eliminating false information about covid and are actively fighting against misinformation. Google has produced an SOS Alert on COVID-19 in the six official UN languages and is extending into more languages to ensure that the public obtains the most up-to-date information from the WHO website. Facebook has also ensured to ban ads that promise cures for Covid-19. Twitter also applied a new definition of harm that goes against authoritative sources to counter misinformation.
This fake news ecosystem surrounding the virus continues to exist, even when hundreds of attackers have been arrested and warned which negatively impacted the country’s inter-community relations as well as its collective measures to fight a life-threatening pandemic.
Recently the government has issued Information Technology Rules, 2021 which set up a regulatory mechanism that will prevent instances of fake news, disinformation and also reduce the spread of defamatory content and disruption of public order.
While internet penetration rates appear optimistic on the one hand, it also introduces a significant challenge: the dissemination of disinformation (“false or erroneous facts”) via social media. It is necessary to recognize the importance of social media platforms and other IT corporations in ensuring a feeling of national security, and their experience and skillset must be optimally utilized for this purpose. The IT (Amendment) Act 2008 contains necessary mechanisms for monitoring and restricting internet sites and services. A proactive approach with the assistance of IT businesses can assist in identifying viral messages and posts. Restricting the number of forwards would be a big step in the right direction because it slows down message propagation, cyber education of our population in identifying misleading statements and making informed decisions about them. This step would minimize the communication and spread of such communications.
Further, swift and exemplary action should be taken against individuals and organizations who promote misleading information both within and outside the country. A collaborative and cooperative collaboration with like-minded countries is required to identify the source of misinformation campaigns and initiate countermeasures against culprits. The government with the help of ambassadors, newspapers, radios, and other platforms can make people aware of the lethal Coronavirus. It can pass general information to the layman. So, they can segregate real news and fake news and would forward only faithful news to others.
Maintaining 6 feet distance from each other is more challenging than being 6000 feet away from the fake news. People take it very lightly to pass any information and data to another group without hesitation, and it has become an everyday expression and a major part of social media. The online platforms should also adopt some suggestive measures to stop the distribution of rumors and an individual should check the veracity of the news before forwarding it to others. The distribution of gossipy titbits should be stopped by actively indulging and getting to the core of the matter. Being well-informed citizens, we should take initiative to haul the spread of fake news. When encountering information- sit back take a moment ~ ‘scrutinize it’ ~ be very wise while sharing information.