“O you who believe! if a person of bad characters brings you any news, verify it, lest you should harm people in ignorance and afterwards you become regretful for what you have done” (Al-Quran).
Abu Bakar Sadiq
Currently, the world is confronting with the issue of COVID-19 pandemic. But another big issue, hurting people especially social media users, more than the coronavirus, is disinformation.
A plethora of misinformation and fake news about the sources and treatment of Coronavirus are making rounds on social media creating panic, fear and anxiety among the people.
Some conspiracy theorists attribute Covid-19 to a game prepared by China to outplay other global powers. Another theory is spread about a game which is being played globally for reducing population of the world. One theory is being circulated on social media platforms that the pandemic is a game created by America against China.
The Covid-19 pandemic is rampaging economies, affecting almost all states on the planet. One-third of the world population is under lockdown.
People can get useful information and knowledge from different social media platforms including WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn etc.
The amount and speed of information flowing through these platforms are unprecedented but they also entail potential risks of spreading unsubstantiated and unverified news which may cause harm instead of a benefit to the users.
For instance, in Iran, news became viral on social media about the benefits of alcohol in fighting the tiny virus. About 40 people died and may were hospitalized after taking home-brewed alcohol.
In countries like Pakistan where awareness about the use of social media is lesser then the developed societies in the world, the illiterate and semi-literate people are more prone to dangers of spreading unverified information about Covid-19 without checking their reliability and source.
A message was circulated on social media asking people to remain indoors after midnight as army helicopters will spray anti-coronavirus chemical in the skies all over the country. After the rumours, the Inter-Services Public Relation (ISPR) a media wing of the armed forces contradicted the news.
A foreign TV channel aired a news report recently that “Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan has tested positive for coronavirus”. A spokesperson for the party took to the social media and denied the news report.
Similarly, there were news reports circulating on social media that patient of coronavirus can be cured by giving them black tea or the garlic water.
Colin Furness an Epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, in his unofficial interview to a news channel, rejected all the news related to the remedies/cures of coronavirus. He said that garlic is an antibacterial which can be used against the bacterial infection, not that of viral. He also added that by inhaling steam will not kill the virus.
The spreading of misinformation about the pandemic is spiralling out of control.
Certain serious measures should be taken against the spreading of misinformation, fake and unsubstantiated news by unauthorized persons about health-related issues otherwise it will have serious consequences for gullible individuals and society.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a reliable source of information. It provides information to the public on a daily basis on the Covid-19. So, rely on it and follow Pakistan’s ministry of health guidelines and SOPs.
If you get any information, do not rush to forward it to others on social media before verifying it.
The government and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) should take strict action against such social media services/users which are spreading misinformation.
Abu Bakar Sadiq is an MPhil student at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad