As the global pandemic took over the world, so did fake news around it. COVID-19 erupted in Wuhan, China, and gradually spread across the globe. A novel virus forced the global economy to shut down, and forced frontline healthcare and paramedical staff to cope up with the overburdened healthcare system by giving care to the infected population and protecting themselves and their loved ones at the same time. On the other hand, scientists and health care researchers are racing to come up with a vaccine and antibodies test as soon as possible. A race against time and an inevitable panic among the general public has given birth to fake news and misinformation in different spaces.
Since there is no proven cure of coronavirus and it is no ordinary flu or fever, authorities are finding it incredibly hard to curb the spread of misinformation around it. While several drug tests are being carried out in laboratories to find suitable medication for treatment, the early stage of the COVID outbreak was severe as researchers tried to understand the cause of the virus, how it is transmitted, and the possible ways to prevent its spread. Interestingly, we owe the spread of this misinformation to not human-only but to bots too. Carnegie Mellon University professor, Dr. Kathleen M. Carly, and her team found that misinformation can be broadly divided into three categories: inaccurate information about cures or preventative measures, erroneous information about the nature of the virus, and incorrect information about the weaponization and bioengineering of the virus.
The coronavirus misinformation of the COVID-19 pandemic is a pressing challenge that WHO and other health authorities are trying to control. Some of the first remedies to the virus that went viral on social media included drinking bleach, eating garlic, taking chloroquine phosphate, etc. These remedies, while sound satire, had serious implications. One such example is the death of a Phoenix-area man who died, and his wife was in critical condition after the couple took chloroquine phosphate, an additive used to clean fish tanks that are also found in an anti-malaria medication. Misinformation around COVID seems to be only growing in Social Media. Roughly one-third of social media users across the United States, as well as Argentina, Germany, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom, reported seeing false or misleading information about coronavirus.
Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube issued a joint statement and pledged to work together to combat misinformation; however, it continues to spread as fast as the actual virus. WHO and governments across the globe launched their information portals to bust myths around COVID-19. Any update is being regularly shared with the general public, such as the lasting effects of coronavirus on different surfaces. Unfortunately, as for social media, while Facebook has engaged independent fact-checking partners and released a request for proposals around false information, it is still falling through cracks owing much to the algorithm setup that these tech companies use to filter data. In a detailed statement released by Facebook, the tech giant explained in detail the measures it is taking to combat misinformation. It promises to work closely with WHO to bust myths, raise awareness, notify users if they have come in contact with false news on social media.
As the world comes together to fight COVID-19, it comes down as a duty on all of us to play our part in curbing the virus by social distancing and also take responsibility to report any misinformation or fake news around us.