Even as the coronavirus pandemic has forced countries around the world into lockdown, it is the "infodemic" of fake news which seems to be spreading than the virus itself, especially in India.
With news and updates about coronavirus from multiple sources like television, newspapers, social media and other sources, it can be quite difficult to sift through all the information that's at your fingertips and decipher what's real and what's fake. You might receive a link, seemingly authentic, on social media and find it intriguing. That's the thing about fake news - it appears believable. But how can you verify it? How can you find out if it's real or not?
Mohammed Zeeshan Fatmi, a freelance digital marketeer residing in Bangalore, may have an answer to your questions. In partnership with a few other volunteers, Fatmi has started a project named 'COVID-19: Fight Fake News'. Fatmi and team have taken it upon themselves to debunk myths surrounding coronavirus and more importantly, direct people to correct information pertaining to the same.
"While we ourselves are not professional fact-checkers or associated with any agency or IFCN (Internation Fact-Check Network), we only dissipate correct information fact-checked by professional websites and fact-checkers through Telegram, WhatsApp, Twitter and our website," said Fatmi.
"When someone receives a fake news story or any misleading claim, they forward that message/image/video to us on Telegram/WhatsApp. One of us checks for information available on the claim being made. In most cases, fact checks have already been done. We then pass along the correct information," he added.
Fatmi said that while there is numerous credible fact-checking organisations around the world and in India, there are very few ones which are accessible. He said that in most cases, the organisations do not respond to queries made by others. "The main aim of our project is being accessible. These fact-check websites have their own WhatsApp number/social channels, they are not responsive. This, I am saying from my personal experience of approaching 3 fact-checking sites only to not get any reply from them," he said.
Fatmi has noticed a few trends with regards to fake news through his project. He said that the reports usually revolve around cures. For instance, a few weeks ago, messages went viral which claimed that garlic can cure coronavirus. However, that is untrue.
More often than not, fake news is targeted at one specific community or religion. And Fatmi agreed. "On one side, the virus continues to spread while on the other side, we have seen stories targetting a particular community. We have seen stories like XXXX community members licking plates and spreading corona through their saliva, praying on terraces in groups, or the recent Palghar lynching," he said.
Lack of education and awareness, according to Fatmi is the biggest cause of fake news in the country. "This trend is only going to see an increase. The general user behavior is to hit the forward button as soon as they receive something sensational," he said.
General awareness and not blindly believing everything you see on the internet is probably one of the most effective ways of fighting fake news. If there are some links you want to clarify, you can reach out to Fatmi's team and count on them to guide you.
Here's another guide we had done on how to spot fake news.