Suchitra Rau Friday, 3 July 2020

Mission Verification

Suchitra Rau
Friday, 3 July 2020

Mission Verification

Amidst the imposition of a worldwide lockdown, our only source of knowledge beyond our four walls comes from media agencies, whether digitally or otherwise. We rely solely on external sources to tell us the current status of the world. Since we are unable to ascertain the precision of the same for ourselves, there has been an escalation in the spread of fake news. Through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has been privy to a great deal of misinformation and falsely stated facts. All the more, with the rise of social media, Facebook and WhatsApp have become the primary source of information for millions around the world. But our situation limits our capabilities of verifying the truth. Thus begging the question of what should or shouldn't be believed. This phenomenon has had the people of the internet coin it- an infodemic.

Throughout this pandemic, several people have been led to believe in myths pertaining to the same. These include claims that consuming potent alcoholic beverages, subjecting oneself to high temperatures or contrastingly, extreme cold, would help in killing the virus. The spread of such information has consequently caused the birth of numerous conspiracy theories. For instance, the spread of the virus was linked to the installation of 5G towers, since Wuhan had set up such cellphone towers three months prior to the outbreak. This led to the burning of various towers in Europe. Furthermore, the media saw its fair share of 'home remedies' that claimed to be cures to the virus. These included inhaling hot water steam, inhaling the steam of sea salt and orange peels, drinking bitter gourd juice as a precautionary measure, or even subjecting oneself to the hot air of a hairdryer. Propagating this fake news has since resulted in some dire consequences, proving detrimental to those who are more vulnerable.

A journalist from ABP Majha reported that there would be a restoration of certain trains to transport migrant workers. This ended in many migrant workers storming the streets of Bandra, Mumbai, demanding to be taken back to their homes. There is an unnecessary sense of panic caused when people are deceived into blindly believing in this misinformation. So was the case when a woman from Kolkata was found circulating the fact that 15 people in New Alipore had tested positive for this virus. She was arrested for doing the same.

With this level of misinformation doing the rounds, a newfound uncertainty, fear and doubt on the accuracy of news is bound to ensue. Nevertheless, this doubt can be eradicated by a few sources that fact-check the information that is being fed to you.

WhatsApp is one such forum that has launched a chatbox, through a collaboration with Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network. This chat would help users check whether a specific news piece has already been branded as false, while also providing tips to avoid misinformation regarding the virus. The bot also supplies a listing of fact-checking organizations that are present globally.

Another fact-checking website by the name of BOOM has been instrumental in debunking these facts, carrying out over 178 fact-checks between January and May 2020. Sites like these strive to provide a detailed analysis of false information.

Finally, as an effort from the government to help counter fake news, the Press Information Bureau has issued an email address for this very purpose.

There is enough chaos at this trying time, as is, but misleading or false information certainly puts the ‘panic’ in ‘pandemic’. As responsible and mindful citizens, we must take it upon ourselves to not only to curb this infodemic, but also to authenticate what we choose to believe.