Infodemic in Corona

(Irteza Jameel, Karachi)

With the outbreak of this pandemic, various pieces of disinformation have flooded social media about the very nature of the pandemic to the cures and treatments. One most common disinformation frequently posted on social media is that Corona Virus is just gimmick of West or Capitalists just to gain financial benefits by selling out the medicines and it does not exist in reality. Yes! People are posting it. Not only to this, but they argue that it was launched by US to restrain China's economic expansion.

Interestingly, there is a Facebook friend of mine who is very logical in his posts but when it comes to Corona Virus, he has vehemently denied its existence. Not only him, but there are various other well-educated people who deny its existence and do not follow the standard operating procedure.

Unfortunately, for quite a time, it has become nature of people that they adopt a skeptical approach to everything, be it a scientific innovation or a theory, a political party or education curricula. One finds no difference of approach among them towards corona. A strong justification put forward is that Government exaggerates the figures in order to get foreign aid. Another facebook friend of mine commented; "The Government is exaggerating the numbers in order to seize the madrasahs in Pakistan and thus paving way towards a Zionist State". This is what is portrayed on Social Media

We can not blame only these people, although there attitude is altogether wrong while we can observe the corona's wrath within our streets, fake news also plays a horrible role in spreading and strengthening these kind of statements. I came across an article on BBC website about fakenews whereby anonymous posts are shared about Badford Royal Infirmary hospital, which was like;

"Please don't show my details. I work for BRI hospital trust. I am begging all the ummati [community], if you have any health condition please do NOT go to hospital. You will not come back alive from this trust… Also have your daily black seed oil which prevents all disease."(https://www.bbc.com/news/health-52337951).

This is how fakenews even in developed countries like Britain circulate and that too anonymously so one can not even verify.

When it comes to us, Pakistanis, it is nature of our people that they often use different local tactics and techniques to deal with their problems. With the advent of this pandemic, one can find plenty of such tactics flooding social media.

Most common advise given is that of chanting some sacred mantra for a definite time. In the subcontinent, pilgrimage to shrines is often considered as cure of all issues. While the experts suggest distance in our social life, people flood to such already jampacked places to get themselves cured.

Similarly a fake news was spread that Corona is transmitted due to cellular phones but was immediately denied by Professor Myrtill Simko of SciProof International in Sweden, saying categorically; “As we see it, there is absolutely no connection between COVID-19 and the 5G cellular service,”

Fake news always play havoc in an already stressed environment. An article shed light on a fact that even in history, fake news accompanied the pandemic such as in Smallpox of Rome to the Black Plague in Europe.

Fake news prove fatal essentially because the panic created by fake news create a psychological stress among the people. There is no denial that Pakistani people are under great psychological pressure in the pandemic owing to various socio-economic aspects. The daily-wagers have to commit suicide as they do not have any way to earn bread for their families because there shops or cabins or shut down or they can not drag their carts.

It is also argued that the Covid positives are psychologically stressed as they consider themselves as inferior citizens. Even if a person has ordinary fever or flu, he is distanced having been labeled as covid positive whichs creates a sense of alienation. Too much distancing from people would definitely affect a persons mentality.

According to a Dawn website report of April 05, 2020, a fake news about a member left the family in shock in Sahiwal. According to that news, wife of Mr. Alamdar an expatriate, who was a chronic cardiac patient was said to have contacted corona and died.

As for my understanding, usually fake news are aired to create apprehension among people so that they may get more concious about this pandemic but at that time, they forget the fatal impact it puts on the person and family.

There are hundreds of thousands of people stuck abroad in this pandemic and their families are suffering double agony; one for the distance with a beloved member and the other that a fake news calls their member dead of corona virus. This requires no explanation what affect could this fake news put on a family, his wife and his children.

Usually such fake news fly from hospitals, when a person affected of another disease is declared to be dead affected by corona. At this, their heirs agitate and this agitation mounts to physical violence and thus the whole hospital is disturbed.

Due to unchecked Social Media, the users usually spread fake news and this flood of fake news on Social media renders Government in trouble to estimate the actually number and thus it fails to take the required measurements. Since Government fails to realise the actually statistics, it fails to make proper arrangements.

Government essentially faces trouble owing to this fake news 'culture'. Even the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has raised concerns on fake news and calls it to be a 'Fatal attitude'. "Disinformation in times of coronavirus can kill", says he helplessly, as quoted by Euronews.com

At first, the first step we are required to take is that we should avoid panicking at news spread because we can not rule out the fakeness in the news. We should be responsible while reacting to any news. We must be educated and educate about the sensitivity of spreading fake news. It has been observed that the fake news about death of relatives of people have made them undergo agony. Since there beloved ones are residing abroad and they do not have firsthand information about their relatives, the parents suffer great agony but later it is learnt that the news if fake.

People should be responsible while reacting towards any news. First of all, the should try to confirm news as much as possible. It is obvious that a layman can not confirm any news on it own however he/she should be educated about fakenews. Blue-ticked Social Media accounts, reliable news websites like BBC, CNN should be consulted about knowing the authencity of any news. I read in an article that in order to sieve authentic news from fake, we must rely on websites with .com, .org, .edu, .gov and should rely less on websites that end with .com or .net. These should be taught to ordinary people and make them realise about grave consequences of spreading fake news.

Government and media houses have to have a serious attitude towards fakenews and take strict notice of spreading such news. Government, NGOs and Civil Society has to create a balance between preventing the spread of fakenews and ensuring the freedom of speech. There is a silver line between both which needs to be highlighted. A proper campaign should be devsied and telecasted on television, websites, radio and mobile messages wherein people are educated about the sensitivity of fakenews amid this pandemic.
Unfortunately, the Federal budgtet of 2020 has left great number of nation in shock. When the country is badly wrestling with this pandemic in limited resources, a gigantic share of budget has been invested on defense. It has been learnt from scholars that the COVID-19 attacks those with weak immune system and the Prime Minister himself stress at the malnutrition of our children, therefore Government needs to rethink its budget in the wake of this lethal challenge on health sector.

We have witnessed a pro-active performance of Civil Society Organizations and NGOs in various sectors, in education, in health and even in responsible news sharing like Individualland does. Therefore, Government should take them on board and produce policies in a manner so that the aforementioned aspects may be covered more efficiently. One can easily witness that irresponsible attitude towards news proves fatal. For few days, the COVID-19 was just said to be a fake news created by Capitalists to gain their interests. It has been reported that the wealth of world's top wealthy people has increased significantly and it has been taken as an evidence by these people who denied the very existence of corona. Civil Society has to take strict notice of this irresponsible analysis and impugn them with facts and figure so it may not cause much harm. If it is told to ordinary people that COVID-19 is mere a consipracy, people would not follow Governments designed SOPs', because it is the nature of our people that they fall prey to such conspiracy theories easily.

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