A worse strain than Coronavirus

The spread of misinformation is on a rise as COVID-19 spreads across over 100 countries.

As the world continues to find ways in combating COVID-19, there has been another pandemic on the rise alongside:  Infodemic. Stories like Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, conspiring the spread of disease; and the Chinese government’s conspiracy of cooking the virus in a secret laboratory led the conversation on social media at first.

That was followed by misinformation on celebrities and politicians catching the virus, racial unrest, and Italians protesting against the Chinese for making the country fall sick. All of these were false news. 

As of today, 113,754 cases of the disease have been reported so far, and 3,990 have died, as reported by worldometers. The mortality rate has risen from 2 per cent to 3.4 per cent.

The parallel pandemic of misinformation has been spreading faster than the COVID19 virus. Earlier in February, The World Health Organization had come forward to collaborate with social media companies and prevent the spread of misinformation related to the virus outbreak. They initiated a collaboration with social media platforms and have been strongly focusing on controlling and debunking misinformation and disinformation around COVID-19.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, and many renowned bloggers have been working closely with the WHO to fight the spread of fake news from their respective platforms, and prevent a state of panic across the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, earlier this month, shared a post about Facebook’s efforts to curb the spread of misinformation. The social media website has been continuously removing posts, videos or images deemed dangerous for the public. Zuckerberg writes, “…it’s not okay to share something that puts people in danger. So we’re removing false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations.” 


WHO also featured themselves on TikTok to reach out to a younger and more tech-savvy generation. 

In the description of their first video, WHO said, “We are joining (Tik Tok) to provide you with reliable and timely public health advice.”

@who

We are joining @tiktok to provide you with reliable and timely public health advice! Our first post: How to protect yourself from ##coronavirus ?

♬ original sound – who

Companies like AirBNB and Uber also joined WHO in their efforts to educate people on the issue of the virus outbreak. 

However, as the global health emergency goes on to take a shape of the pandemic, the efforts to curb the fake news are falling short.

With 43 cases of COVID-19 reported on Monday, India saw a rapid flow of misinformation shared over social media, feigning fear of panic erupting from it. 

WhatsApp has a history of inciting fights, mob violence and propagating agendas in India. This time, unverified home remedies to tackle the outbreak were on the front. One message suggested avoiding ice-creams and washing clothes with detergent more often.

Another WhatsApp message suggested a high consumption of Vitamin C and citrus fruits, and one even gave a DIY test to detect the virus. Most of the messages were in regional languages, including Hindi and Urdu.

Image courtesy: Fake information about Coronavirus shared on a family WhatsApp group.

Adding to the ordeal, the Modi government’s elected representatives claimed how the virus can be killed with cow urine and cow dung.

Similar WhatsApp messages were being circulated in Africa, suggesting local herbs and home remedies to cure the disease and kill the virus. 

In Taiwan, a number of Facebook posts claimed the country was hiding the number of COVID-19 cases. An altered screenshot of the Taiwanese president catching the virus was also being shared heavily. 

News Guard, a misinformation tracking website, has formed  Coronvirus Misinformation Tracking Center to verify the information related to the virus. Moreover, it has also put together a list of bot and news websites that are contributing to the spread of fake information.

As the spread of misinformation continues to find its place in people’s devices, it will be an endless task for WHO and other social media platforms to keep debunking and discouraging false claims. 

The New York Times quotes John Gregory, the deputy health editor for NewsGuard: “Because the information about the virus is playing out in real-time, there’s a separation of a few days before anyone with a scientific background, or journalists, are able to debunk the claim.”

Ritika Dubey
Written by
Ritika Dubey

Ritika Dubey is a journalism-New Media (PG) student at Sheridan College. An Indian journalist, she is passionate about reporting on environmental issues. Ritika has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, with majors in the English language. She is a research scholar, digital illustrator, avid reader and traveller. She moved to Canada in August 2019 and currently lives in Oakville, Ontario.

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