False information is spreading around the globe to such an extent that some analysts refer to the new breakdown of misinformation, accompanied by Corona Virus Disease, i.e., COVID-19 pandemic 'misinfodemic.'
As we all know that the whole world is suffering from this great pandemic due to widespread novel COVID-19. Another virus that is also spreading like an avalanche every second among us, equally dangerous to the Coronavirus is fake news regarding it. Misinformation in context to a pandemic is creating chaos and uncertainty among the people. This phenomenon of fake news risks lives, promoting unproven vague facts.
The individual receives these pieces of misleading facts or information deliberately, which are made with a motive to spread and mislead the individuals through the social media platform. Later, individuals forward such bogus information, generally through WhatsApp, in their contacts without trying to find the facts behind it without knowing its consequences. Social media makes such misinformation available to a wider population at no point in time. On the other hand, people are losing the ability to think rationally upon such fake news and find the truth behind it.
Fake news always creates havoc among the masses, which leads to misinterpretation by the people at large, which most of the time results in prejudice, then stereotyping and marginalization towards the particular people of a community. In the current scenario, we are all aware that the world is witnessing such misleading facts, false rumors in context to the pandemic of the decade leading to misinformation and fake news at large. Such fake news has been circulated through social media accounts, creating anxiety and restlessness among people and various health issues. Lives are not only at risk through the virus but from fake news also, which is endangering the lives of people at large.
"It is a part of a larger ecosystem; it's not like it is suddenly happening now," said Thomas Abraham, a journalist and honorary associate professor of Hong Kong University, whose research focused on risk communication during epidemics. According to him, "We can stop an individual from doing what is restricted, but someone else will start doing it. If we have a culture of doing it, it will continue." And in our country, the culture of circulating bogus information without verifying it is very much prevalent, and the current scenario of fake news has been aided by influential political leaders to play politics and save their vote banks.
According to a report, India has 451 million active internet users, according to the report, and 400 million WhatsApp users. WhatsApp has been one of the key platforms for easy communication, which is used to circulate misinformation among the people.
Rampant misinformation regarding COVID-19 has resulted in dozens of arrests all over the country; these rumors are traveling faster than the virus among the people. Bogus information has flown across the various social media accounts. Conspiracy theories about the origin of viruses and various fake remedies to cure it are gaining momentum across WhatsApp,
Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms challenging the public health issues at large. False claims are viewed by millions of people on YouTube, like having cow urine and dung to combat the virus, gargling with various liquids, especially alcohol, drinking boiled garlic water, avoiding meat. Another claim made by Linwood and other Facebook users that inhaling the steam of sea salt and orange peelings can prevent COVID-19 virus, pictures of COVID-19 test kits were shared as its vaccine in the USA, and various misleading information has been forwarded from county to country. Some experts are advising to beware of online tests and cures of COVID-19.
Another instance that added fuel in the fire of fake news is Tablighi Jamaat incidence, an Islamic religious reform movement held in Delhi's Nizamuddin, six attendees died of COVID-19. According to a report, 7600 Indians and 1300 foreigners were identified in that group. According to the Home Ministry's report, 1051 have been quarantined, 21 have tested positive, and two died. This incident led to a surge in fake news targeting the Muslim community for the pandemic. An old video claiming fruit vendor spitting on fruits to spread the virus, viral WhatsApp messages claiming Muslim-owned restaurants are spitting on food, such various fake videos, misleading facts were shared across the social media with hashtags such as #coronoajihad and #Nizamddinidiot trending on twitter targeted Muslim community for actively spreading the virus in the country. On social media accounts, people are forwarding such misleading, false facts, and information is ranging from the dubious to the dangerous. On 5th April, Amar Ujala reported that Jamaat participants asked for non-vegetarian food and defecated on the open at a quarantine facility at Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
A statement released by the Saharanpur police, "News vs. Truth," has denied such claims and mentioned them as 'untrue and wrong.' COVID -19 cases and communal hatred is still rising in the country due to fake news, which is spreading all over the social media and creating hate rather than taking precautions for the virus.
Instead of tackling and verifying the source of such misinformation, the local authorities were directing police to made rampant arrests and raised various questions on the ability of the ruling government to control this fake news scenario. Though some of the messages were patently senseless, and people believed in such nonsense things and blindly following them, which they are doing still and creating a situation of restlessness and anxiety among themselves, due to absence of a clear definition of "fake news" law is unable to make enforcement among authorities to exercise their powers to ban such senseless things on the internet.
COVID-19 pandemic is regarded as misinfodemic due to the circulation of misinformation on social media, which is creating ravage not only on physical health but also on mental health, which is a serious issue. Many misleading facts are/were deliberately forward to deceive. People are forwarding such dim-witted things on WhatsApp, which is creating disaster. In our country, people have a habit of forwarding various news on social media without verifying it, which is now becoming a wrong culture. This fake news circulation is creating hate among the people and targeting one particular community to blame for a pandemic. Some politicians are taking full advantage of this situation and making it worse instead of dealing with this great problem; people are busy in forwarding hate news, foolish remedies and politicians are playing politics and blaming the ruling government for failures of their plans to protect people from getting infect from the disease.
What is the source from where such fake news comes, and why is it been circulated? Why are our politicians playing blame games in this critical situation? This is a high time when everyone should come together and save humanity from this disease because the disease will not see from which community an individual belongs. It’s not the time to believe in superficial things. People should be rational at this time and go granular. This is the time when people should crunch the right data, should not read just one article and one report about Coronavirus, at least people should read ten reports and have a rigorous approach to understanding what’s going on with the pandemic, with the economy, with the people, so that they can pivot accordingly.
There are five things that every individual should do before sharing any information or news on social media that can help them verify whether the information is genuine or not:
1. Source: everyone should try to figure out where this kind of information is coming. Once people know the source of data, they will come to know if the information is authentic or not.
2. Date: The most important aspect that people usually ignore which is not correct. It is a very crucial aspect to verify, and people should beware of old dates.
3. Tone: tone here refers to in which context information has been circulated.
4. Motives: what is the motive of spreading such things on the internet, like many people circulated some information to target people for creating prejudice?
5. Random piece of nonsense: some information is just randomly made without any rational aspect.
Once the individuals start verifying and gathering data from right and trusted sources, they will be able to take decisive action against such fake news.
Llyod Law College