The Central government has asked all social media platforms to curb misinformation about the corona virus that adds to the raging COVID-19 pandemic. During these unprecedented times, the medical infrastructure of the nation has been pushed to its edge. The last thing we need right now is social media users to add oil to the fire by spreading misleading information about the deadly disease.
As the world struggles to find a vaccine and a treatment for Covid-19, there are often miscreants creating hoaxes, conspiracy theories, anti-mask myths and spreading misleading information about the pandemic. Then there are benign users who share the misleading information. Social media has amplified such myths to an extent that, the believers of such have found each other. Recently, it escalated, when Ex- President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus. It unraveled to be false and it was reported that Russian intelligence was spreading misleading information about the crisis.
In India too, there is also an infodemic raging on regarding vaccines and their safety on people with pre-existing comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension, especially among women. Additionally, there are myths about using nebulizers as a replacement for medical oxygen tanks, of which there is a severe shortage in the country present.
Furthermore, rumors promoting inhalation of steam as well as the consumption of garlic, cinnamon and liquorice root, as a preventive measure or cure for COVID have been widely circulated. Another dangerous idea is that Indians have a higher immunity against the coronavirus. This was based on an erroneous and superficial interpretation of a single gene study conducted among different ethnic groups. A lot of this content, in the form of text, images and videos, is shared in local languages on such platforms.
Intervention of the Government
The Ministry of Electronics and IT has issued an advisory to all social media platforms, asking them to approach their user base and initiate awareness campaigns. They have also urged them to strictly remove any false information about the disease which may create a sense of panic and disturb the entire public order.
The Ministry has also said that misleading information has the potential to impact reliable information, hence social media should promote authentic information pertaining to COVID-19. Additionally, it has asked social media platforms to follow the new intermediary guidelines and inform their users not to post or share unverified information. Platforms should issue warnings to those who misuse them to spread misleading information.
Owing to the large user base, especially in India with users speaking different languages, it is difficult for social media platforms to monitor each and every communication.
However, several platforms have initiated inbuilt tools that provide authentic information about the pandemic, safety guidelines for it and authentic information about vaccines. Most social media platforms have initiated mechanisms like “More Info about COVID 19” tags that leads to reliable information backed by the health ministry.
An executive of a social media firm reported to the ET, “No company is anyway knowingly allowing fake news, but what we think the government means is that if companies see such misinformation circulating on their platforms, then they should stop it,”