Infodemic: the new challenge of COVID-19 pandemic

  • IASbaba
  • April 7, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 1 & 2:

  • Effects of globalization on Indian society. 
  • Development processes and the development industry —the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations 

Infodemic: the new challenge of COVID-19 pandemic

Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, has spread to every continent except Antarctica. The crisis has also created the menace of infodemic.

Infodemic is a situation where there is an “overabundance” of information that makes it difficult for people to identify truthful and trustworthy sources from false or misleading one

How has COVID-19 impacted the use of Social Media?

  • Enhanced Usage: Suspension of work during quarantine has left people to increasingly use Social media platforms both for entertainment and information. 
    • Nearly 400 million turn to a single messaging app- WhatsApp- for sharing news and stories
    • More than 240 million are on Facebook and, often, using it as the predominant source of news,
  • Lack of gate-kepers in Social Media: Traditional news had quality assurance, and editorial controls before publication and most of the content was created by professionals – which is lacking in social media
  • Breeding ground for rumours: The above factors have become the perfecting setting for spread of misinformation some of which are-  Bioweapons origins of the coronavirus (false); Bill Gates was behind it (false); UNICEF’s recommendations for warding off infection (unauthorised)

What are the consequences of spread of misinformation?

  • Communalisation of Pandemics: The Tablighi-Jamaat in New Delhi which has emerged as hot spot for the pandemic has made anti-social elements to give the disease communal colour (Corona Jihad)
  • Polarised public sphere: Increasing distrust among the communities
  • Privileging of faith over science: Any news which speaks about a cure is believed.
  • Nativist concerns are prioritised over global anxiety- which has strengthened conservative tendencies
  • Contempt for scientific temper – where wrong behaviours can further propel the pandemic
  • Spurs Panic behaviour in people – causing people to rush to markets for stockpiling their essential supplies
  • Enhances anxiety among public:  For instance, a 23-year-old man, suspected to be a patient of novel coronavirus infection, committed suicide by jumping from the seventh floor of Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi
  • Law and order issues: People have attacked the health inspectors in certain places due to misplaced fears spread through social media

Actions taken by various agencies to fight infodemic

  • Fact checking websites like Boom Live and Alt News, are continuously checking stories and verifying its truth. 
  • WHO has started their own myth busting page – “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters”, debunking the myths doing rounds in social media and educating the public with authentic and verified information. 
  • Proactive role by Social Media Platforms
    • Google has created an SOS Alert on COVID-19 for the six official UN languages to make sure the first information the public receives is from the WHO website
    • Facebook has promised to ban ads that promise “cures” for the Covid-19 virus.
  • The Press Information Bureau has set up a portal for fact-checking issues related with the pandemic. It will also receive messages by email and send its response.

Way Forward

  • Information Hygiene: Where people need to verify the information before sharing it to others. 
  • Information hygiene can be done by verifying it is from an authentic source, double checking with fact checking website, asking a doctor or an expert etc.
  • Inform relevant authorities of the rumours being spread on social media platforms
  • Investing in training people to understand the concept of information hygiene.

Connecting the dots:

  • Do governments need to regulate the Social Media platforms to prevent the spread of misinformation?
  • Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee recommendation on data protection framework in India

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