Guwahati: An outbreak of rumours and misinformation about the Covid-19 infection and the nationwide lockdown has hit everyone's lives no less than the pandemic itself. Alongside the doctors and healthcare workers fighting the disease, the police and government authorities dealing with 'fake news' about the novel coronavirus and containment measures are also facing a real tough battle.
In Assam, the police force is on a war footing 24/7 to control and take action against misinformation peddlers during the lockdown period. The cyber cell and police force is trying hard to ensure no rumour-monger is left unpunished.
Along with many parts of the country, Assam too is witnessing a fake news storm on social media and many people are falling into the trap without verifying the facts. Miscreants are taking advantage of this sensitive period to create panic among the masses.
Last week, a fake news item in the name of a non-existent ministry coursed through social media across Assam. A lot of people were sharing the bogus piece through Facebook and WhatsApp. Later, Assam Police tweeted: “There is a Fake WhatsApp Janasanyog Government Notification being circulated in the name of a nonexistent Minister of Communication & Digital Economy stating that from 4.4.20 all phone Calls will be recorded, all Social Media monitored and Android phones connected to the Ministry.”
The department added: “Do not believe this message. It is fake. Do not forward or circulate it either.”
Assam government has taken a serious view of the rumours about the coronavirus and lock down. the chief minister's press adviser Hrishikesh Goswami in a media conference on Tuesday requested everyone not to forward or share any such messages on social media. He informed journalists that the information and public relations department of the government has filed an FIR against 'Dainik Jugasankha', a Bengali daily published from Silchar, for carrying a false news report about the state’s first Covid-19 patient. While the patient is still admitted at Silchar Medical College Hospital, the paper reported that he has been cured. The newspaper claimed without any authencity that the second test carried out on the patient produced a 'negative' result. The case was lodged against the reporter who filed the story and the publisher of the newspaper under section 188 of the IPC and provisions of the Assam Covid-19 Regulation, 2020.
Assam's directorate of information and public relations (DIPR) has formed a five-member committee for monitoring and checking of fake news in all forms of media. Members of the committee are officials from the information, health, police and disaster management departments.
This committee is inspecting fake news and also giving directions to district information officers to look after social media handles and activate WhatsApp numbers so that the public can get access to correct information.
In Assam, a total of 28 people have been found coronavirus positive so far and several thousand people are in home quarantine. Of the 28 patients, 27 have links with a congregation of the Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi last month. On Sunday night, a local MLA from the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Aminul Islam, was arrested on the charge of spreading communal propaganda regarding the coronavirus, and since then Assam Police has been extra vigilant in dealing with any tense situation. The legislator was arrested after his phone audio clip went viral, in which he expressed fears that people would be injected with the coronavirus and murdered.
Assam Police has so far established a monitoring system to check social media users spreading rumours about Covid-19. Till Wednesday 9am, a of total 52 cases had been registered for spreading rumors or uploading objectionable comments on social media, 25 people had been arrested and eight detained people released after issuing notice in this manner. According to a recent report, counselling was done with 110 people and more than 120 social media posts had been deleted and many accounts deactivated. The police have also established a system for providing relief to people with the help of NGOs and civil society groups.
Assam Police's fight against fake news has received widespread support from various individuals and organisations. To alert about the misinformation flood on social media, Dr Ankuran Dutta, associate professor and head of the department of communication and journalism at Gauhati University, has initiated a mission called 'check the fake'. Speaking to News18, he said, "Fake news in today’s world has taken shape of an 'infodemic', i.e., a pandemic of incorrect information. It has three forms: misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. Misinformation refers to the false and inaccurate information which is deliberately created to deceive others. Disinformation is also same type of fake information deliberately created to harm a person, social group or country. The third one, malinformation, is based on reality but used to inflict harm on a person or an organisation. All these types of inaccurate information have little difference and fake news is their umbrella term."
No doubt during the lockdown period, people are solely dependent on TV and social media for all kind of information about the pandemic to stay alert, but misinformation and rumours are paralysing the rational thought process and are seen as threats to the law and order situation. While people are reminded again and again to maintain social distancing against the pandemic outbreak, at the same time one has to follow ‘social media distancing’ norms laid down by authorities to destroy the fake news or ‘infodemic’.