FAKE NEWS AND CORONA by : M. Uday Shankar

INTRODUCTION:

Fake news refers to news containing misleading or fabricated contents that mostly leads to confusion in many people. Times of crisis are always the great times of fake news and untrue propaganda.

The more ridiculous the claims seem, the more traction they gain on the social media. Social media has been the giant medium for spreading fake news.

Though platforms like Facebook, Twitter have pledged and taken certain measures to identify and restrict the spread of fake news, it takes new shapes to spread and continues its effect.

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The risk of fake news around the ‘novel corona virus’ often referred as COVID 19 pandemic has been unprecedented, leading to fact checkers and health advisors working round the clock to provide accurate information on the disease.

GLOBAL FAKE NEWS:

The easy access of Internet has given upsurge to birth of several online sites, these sites are publishing news in name of fact checkers which are also spreading fake news.

People often get puzzled, as to which source is reliable. Thousands of fake news are knitted around the pandemic and lockdown measures.

Few of them around curing and combating the human transmission of pandemic are as follows:

  • Drinking alcohol can kill corona virus inside the human body.
  • Brushing teeth with silver coated brush could kill corona virus.
  • Few claims that vaccine is ready and is being tested on rats and monkeys.
  • Supplements such as fish oil, zinc, vitamins can be used to combat corona virus.
  • People stored chloroquine drug over news that it can cure corona virus, few people used it without doctor’s prescription and suffered side effects.

A very funny video that is being circulated in one of the social media platforms named WhatsApp. In that video, a young lady is seen taking an Orange fruit, peeling it off and boiling that orange peel with water.

We can see her telling that the steam so formed, if inhaled can cure corona virus. This clearly show us the extent up to which the humanity has browbeaten in initiating and spreading fake news.

In another instance, an old photo of a lion roaming in streets has been turned into a news that Russia’s President Mr. Vladimir Putin has ordered to release lions into streets of Russia in order to make people obey the guidelines of lockdown.

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A photo Brazil’s Prime Minister Mr. Jair Bolsonaro breaking down was falsely linked to corona virus hit Italy. This picture went viral on all the platforms of social media quoting pray for Italy as its government gave up its fight against corona.

A picture from an art exhibition in Germany where people were lying on the ground, this picture was linked to people falling dead on streets of Italy.

Most disturbing news that spread more rapidly than a bushfire was a video where a lady was mistaken to be a boy jumps off a building as his entire family deceased due to corona, it was actually a lady committing suicide for some other reason.

There is a rumour that people who are infected with corona virus are losing their senses of smell, which is partially true but need to be proven beyond doubt.

A sad incident in Iran where seven hundred people died after drinking toxic methanol to cure corona virus occurred due to circulation of a fake news.

Most of the false or misleading claims were circulated with videos (35%), there was also a significant number of text messages (29.4%) being shared with fake cures, treatments or quotes from celebrities, along with images (29.4%) that were either misrepresented or doctored, a small number of audio clips (2.2%) contain these false and fake content.

POSITION IN INDIA:

India is a country with almost 1.36 billion population and almost 600 million smart phones users which is almost fifty percentage of the total population.

Seventy percent of them are active in social media platforms and are just a click away from sharing all the unwanted fake news about any issue or person. In India, a person can be made hero or zero overnight by spreading fake news.

In wake of the pandemic, several WhatsApp messages are being spread as cure and measures to prevent corona virus.

It has become hobby to almost all the elder people to circulate these messages in lockdown, what they gain out of it is still an unanswered question. Few of these fake messages and false propaganda are as follows:

  • Garlic and ginger boiled in water can cure corona virus
  • Homeopathy pills were distributed claiming they improve immunity.
  • Religious people and environmentalists claim that corona is a punishment to human race by god and mother nature for derogating religion and depleting nature.
  • Astrological predictions by few astrologers that corona will end in a month.
  • India is a tropical country and corona cannot survive temperatures of summer.
  • The BCG vaccine for tuberculosis has protected Indians from corona virus.
  • Cow urine will kill the virus.
  • Indians have better immune systems to fight the virus

Most bothersome are that fake news which said that 136 crore people clapping and making sounds with utensils or drums at 5 PM on 22nd March, 2020 would produce sound waves of a frequency that can kill the corona virus that is prevailing in air and settled on land and things.

Something more worrisome was circulated when Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given the nation a call to put off lights and lighten candles, diyas, torches and mobile flashes at 9 PM for 9 minutes on April 5th, 2020 in solidarity to the health workers, doctors and all the frontline warriors, it was spread that as 136 crore people lighten candles or diyas, it would produce heat that would kill corona virus.

Besides this it was also circulated that as all people would put off lights, the electricity grid may collapse and result in power shortage for two days.

It was widely spread from words of American President Donald Trump that corona virus was biologically engineered in Wuhan’s virology lab and often named it as Chinese virus. There is no enough proof to support this context but is widely spread.

Terrible was when people denied to rent houses for doctors, health workers over fake news who were the only visible god to fight the virus amid knowing that they are the first people to get infected with the virus.

CONCLUSION:

COVID 19 pandemic has no reliable medicine to cure or any vaccine so as to prevent its spread. All this fake propaganda is circulated around the pandemic as it is uncurable whereas no such propaganda is circulated around Malaria, Typhoid or such other diseases because they are curable, have medicines to treat and vaccines to prevent their contagion.

The more the spread of a news that virus can be defeated, the more people get relaxed and may come back to their natural habitat where they no long clean their hands, use face masks and follow physical distancing.

The more the spread of news that virus may last for a year or more, the more people tend to panic, few may even start enjoying their lives as there is no tomorrow and this may lead to further spread of virus.

In India, a collection of four hundred scientists have joined together to form Indian Scientists Response to COVID 19 to debunk all the false information.

Similar measures are to be taken by scientists of every nation. Several online sites have started fact checking the fake news, false information and are educating people about the virus and its preventive measures.

As a popular quote says ‘prevention is so much better than healing because it saves people of being sick,’ it is important to prevent both fake news and corona virus from instigating and spreading rather than looking helplessly and suffering with its impact.

It is high time to realise that corona virus cannot be cured immediately, we have to start living with the virus and its spread can only be prevented through following physical distancing, using masks and washing hands regularly and avoid large gatherings.

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