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Garlic, 5G Tech, Salt Water: It's Not Just India That's Falling Prey to Fake News on Coronavirus

By: Jashodhara Mukherjee


Last Updated: April 17, 2020, 13:47 IST

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

Misinformation and fake news has been aplenty even as the world grapples to deal with the destruction and devastation caused by the pandemic.

The battle against Coronavirus is long and has many hurdles. Besides the stretched health system, lack of safety gears for doctors, inadequate infrastructure to handle a lockdown situation, there's fake news.

The novel coronavirus was "manufactured" in Chinese labs. Covid-19 is being used as a biological weapon by China. Ronaldo converted his hotels into coronavirus hospitals. Covid-19 can be fought with garlic.

In India, WhatsApp forwards has been the biggest tool to spread fake news around. Unverified home remedies to tackle the virus, fake advisories asking people to avoid foods such as ice cream and chicken, and conspiracy theories-- Indians are unable to avoid the flood of misinformation.

The more sinister 'fake news' was the misinformation that spread wildly around the congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat that was linked to multiple positive cases in the country.

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Misinformation and fake news have been aplenty even as the world grapples to deal with the destruction and devastation caused by the pandemic. Psychology says that in times of crisis, people are even more susceptible to fake news and are more likely to believe any information that comes their way, without properly verifying it.

A few days ago, a 'news' post that claimed 5G technology transmits the virus went viral on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms. The message which has been circulated since January claims that 5G can suppress one's immunity system or may even help in further transmitting the virus. Bizarre, right?

What is more bizarre is the fact that people believed it and there were reports of people damaging 5G towers as well.

Racism has also raised its ugly head since numerous Facebook posts claimed that African Americans were immune to coronavirus. No, they're not.

There are also theories that claim covid-19 was bioengineered and that it was leaked accidentally from a lab in China.

The source of this claim, posts about which are still rampant on Facebook and WhatsApp, is the fact that there is a biosafety level four (BSL 4) lab in Wuhan, where Coronavirus originated. And that lab happens to have samples of a certain virus. However, Forbes reports that there is no way the virus could have been "accidentally leaked" because of their superior level of security.

Similarly, there have been posts on social media claiming that Hydroxychloroquine consumption could save you from coronavirus. Even as US President Trump promotes taking the drug, it is still in the experimental phase and is definitely not safe for consumption. A man in Phoenix died after consuming HCQ without consulting his doctor.

A few months ago, there were reports that Facebook wasn't removing fake news even if users pointed it out if the concerned post was in local languages. Economic Times reports that at least one-third of Facebook users use local and vernacular languages to communicate on the social media platform wherein the AIs were primarily trained in English.

This means if a fake news report has been circulated in local languages on Facebook, chances are, Facebook won't do anything about it even if it has been reported.

A BBC report showed how millions of users were greeted with fake news on Facebook with no warning whatsoever by the platform. Nevertheless, Facebook has altered its fake news strategy in light of the pandemic.

Now, users who share, watch or receive news that is false, a pop-up alert will redirect them to the WHO website with authentic facts and information and where myths regarding coronavirus have been debunked.

An activist group Avaaz has been tracking all the fake news reports on Facebook and calls the platform the epicentre of misinformation.

Another video on Facebook claimed that gargling with water, salt and vinegar could rid your body of the virus. The video was shared thousands of times before Avaaz flagged it to Facebook and asked them to take it down. By then, thousands of clones of the video had already been made and circulated.

Avaaz says that it can take almost twenty-two days for Facebook to attach a coronavirus misinformation label to a particular post even though it has been flagged. One can only imagine the damage a single post can cause in that time-frame.

Now, as this "infodemic" hangs over our heads like a dagger, here's a quick guide on how to spot fake news.