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Handling fake news Infodemic in time of Coronavirus epidemic

Social media has provided a platform where everybody can disseminate his/ her views without any supervision. It’s excellent if the message is genuine but misinformation is equally disastrous. Health is such a topic where every Tom and Harry can not give opinions. The service providers should be made accountable to filter out fake news on the health issues and provide scientific information to the audiences. 

Siddheshwar  ShuklaSiddheshwar Shukla | Updated: 14-02-2020 17:35 IST | Created: 14-02-2020 17:34 IST
Handling fake news Infodemic in time of Coronavirus epidemic
Image Credit: ANI

The information has always been viewed as a power to influence the masses. This power of information to influence human behavior is sometimes misused to disseminate misinformation or fake news. However, with the advent of social media and facilitating technologies; fake news has become so competitive with news in terms of presentation and quick dissemination that even international organizations are worried about it.

Though several countries have made some rules to control the fake news within the boundaries, it often goes beyond their control. This could be well understood in the case of Coronavirus or COVID 19 in China wherein the anti-fake news law of the country failed to control the dissemination of fake news. The problem has become so grave that the World Health Organization (WHO) had to approach the social media and internet companies in Silicon Valley in the USA on February 13 for help in controlling the – infodemic, the term given by WHO for the flood of fake news on COVID 19 epidemic on internet and social media. Besides, in a study published on February 14, the experts have opined that fake news has been a major contributor to the spread of diseases. The study was carried out on flu, monkeypox, and norovirus but also applied on COVID 19, said the experts. In the present scenario, the infodemic on the Coronavirus epidemic has become a challenge but the measures and strategies adopted by various stakeholders are expected to yield a model for future planning.

Search Engines should provide scientific information

Search engines have become the most popular platform for people to verify the information they receive. We can not directly blame the people who are forwarding the information to their relatives and friends and unwittingly adding into the infodemic. They may not be conspirators and culprits but victims. Here comes the role of search engines.

The main purpose of the visit of Andrew Pattison, Digital Business Solutions Manager, WHO, to Silicon Valley was to ensure the audiences searching about Coronavirus are provided scientific information. In the meeting attended by the representatives of Google, Apple, Airbnb, Uber, and Salesforce, he emphasized the need of providing scientific information to the audience who come for the search on Coronavirus and filter out the fake news. Some social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and TikTok claim to have an internal mechanism in place to filter out fake news and provide scientific news on the Coronavirus Epidemic. The role of search engines and social media platforms is of very high importance in minimizing the impact of fake news by filtering it out and promoting the scientific news items. In case of any health epidemic, these companies should be consulted for immediate action.

Social Media companies should bear their share of Responsibility

China is suffering from the second health epidemic of the 21st Century. In 2002-03, China suffered from the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic which, according to experts, was of a similar kind as that of Coronavirus but the casualties were 774 from 17 countries. However, Coronavirus has so far caused the death of about 1300 persons.

According to experts, besides other things, the intensity of Coronavirus is higher due to fake news which largely affects the behavior of patients. In 2003, hardly 6 percent of people in China had access to the internet which is now over 60 percent. The fake news mongers present their unverified news in such a way it looks like scientific news. They also quote doctors, scientists, nurses, and patients, etc, present their news to convince the audiences. Besides, photos and videos are also added to enhance credibility.

As presently being done by some companies, it should be made mandatory for social media companies to deploy adequate staff to filter out non-scientific information on diseases and health issues and provide scientific content to the audiences.

Comment in the same Fake News

The non-scientific fake news which is less in circulation should be delisted but if any fake news has a very high rate of circulation the delisting would not help much. This is because the fake news mongers make their own fake news on social media and circulate it. In such cases, comments and highlights in the same fake news on the pattern of 'fact check' have been more effective.

The audiences opening the news will automatically get the counter view in the same news and swiftly lose interest in forwarding to others. Besides, the counter view in the same news item would be less effective in regulating their behavior.

Group Discussion

Group discussion has been an effective medium to filter out misinformation. These group discussions could be informally or formally held at family and community level. After discussion, suspicions should be framed in the form of questions and trained medical professionals should be approached for advice.

Law and Punishment

Like propaganda creators, fake news mongers also sometimes have vested business interests. It has been found that when users search for the term Coronavirus on Amazon, the search engine provides content on the face mask and Vitamin C boosters. The WHO has expressed concerns about the business strategy of Amazon as Vitamin C has no links with Coronavirus and is listed as fake news.

Several Southeast Asian nations have laws against fake news, but they are largely associated with controlling anti-establishment views and public protests. However, despite these limitations in the law about 20 persons have been arrested in six countries. The neighboring countries such as Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and Thailand have joined China to control the fake news. The fake news mongers are being arrested from China's Hong Kong to India's Kerala.

There may be a difference of opinions on political and social issues but as for health is concerned, there is hardly a chance of two scientific opinions on the same question. The corporate houses engaged in providing internet and social media platforms for the expression of views need to realize that every Toms and Harry cannot give a scientific opinion on health issues. You need trained health experts. There must be a mechanism in place on health news reporting and verification of the same on the internet and other social media platforms for effective prevention of communicable diseases like Coronavirus. Besides, the laws should be strengthened to make every stakeholder responsible for posting non-scientific information.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)


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