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COVID-19: Panic due to fake news on social media in India


 Department of Physics, FAA Government PG College, Mahmudabad, Uttar Pradesh, India

Date of Submission19-May-2020
Date of Decision19-Jul-2020
Date of Acceptance21-Sep-2020

Correspondence Address:
Avadhesh Kumar Yadav,
Department of Physics, F. A. A. Government P.G. College, Mahmudabad - 261 203, Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/mjdrdypu.mjdrdypu_264_20



How to cite this URL:
Yadav AK. COVID-19: Panic due to fake news on social media in India. Med J DY Patil Vidyapeeth [Epub ahead of print] [cited 2021 May 11]. Available from: https://www.mjdrdypv.org/preprintarticle.asp?id=309948



Dear Sir,

COVID-19 has created a public health emergency in the world. The epidemic caused due to this disease has originated from the Wuhan city of China in December 2019, which has now spread all over the world.[1] Many efforts have been taken to deal with this epidemic, but there is no medicine or vaccine has been developed so far. Therefore, it is very crucial for us to take preventive measure as a simplest solution. Proper hygiene and social (physical) distancing are the easiest way to avoid COVID-19. Moreover, it is our responsibility to give the right information to the society. In today's time, electronic and social media are the most appropriate way to share any information in the society. Besides the good role of social media, it is also being misused as fake news in India. Fear, anxiety, depression, etc., are results of fake news or misinformations during the pandemic in India. Several suicide cases are also reported in the country due to misinformation about COVID-19 and which is the indication of stress and depression. The first suicide case due to misinformation of COVID-19 was reported in Andhra Pradesh where a 50-year-old male did not want to spread the infection of coronavirus to his family, so he committed suicide.[2] Similarly, a man jumped from the 7th floor of Safadarganj hospital in New Delhi and gave his life. He was suspected of COVID-19 infection.[3] Two days ago, an army personnel undergoing treatment for lung cancer, and he committed suicide after being the information of infected with COVID-19.[4] Due to fake news, the incidents of violence on medical staff and doctors are also happening in the country.[5] Moreover, the incidents of communal accusations in the country are also the result of fake news. Misinformations of drinking alcohol and wine for prevention of COVID-19 are circulated on social media, but it is not correct, which is clarified by the World Health Organization (WHO). Few myths about the thermal scanner are also spreading on social media claiming to test the COVID-19, but in reality, the thermal scanner measures only the fever of the body.[6] Fake message on WhatsApp claims that the four-step protocol about lockdown was issued by the WHO to India, but the WHO clarify for nonissuance of such guideline.[7] After the occurrence of the first case of COVID-19 in India, several misleading rumors were spread on social media, and consequently, masks and sanitizers became out of stock from the market. Moreover, with fake claims of transmission of the virus through air and its survival on different surfaces lead to wear different types of masks such as N95, surgical, and simple cloth masks without the knowledge of their use and disposal. The inappropriate use of N95 masks by common people make shortage for health-care worker those have actually needed.[8] After the announcement of the lockdown order in India, long queues were observed in shops and market to make stock for the future which is also a consequence of warning messages claiming shortage of food material in the future. Moreover, several logos and website links of national and international health agencies, news channels, and leading newspapers are being misused in such fake news.[7]

Recently, Datta et al. have reported about the infodemics of COVID-19. The study reveals that “Social media” and “family and friends” were the main sources of misinformation. WhatsApp and Facebook are main social media platforms used for spreading the wrong informations due to large number of users in India. For according to their study, the misinformations are mainly related to various treatment options of COVID-19, followed by vaccination, spread, and killing of viruses. The particular cases “kafoor/laung/elaichi (camphor, cloves, and cardamom) as a cure for COVID-19 being propagated on TV, vibrations can kill viruses, and breath-holding test as a self-diagnostic test of COVID-19” of misinformation are also reported in their study. Disruption and uncomfortableness were found in both specialists and nonspecialists due to misinformation about COVID-19.[9] Inaccurate informations are circulated on social media in two forms such as misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation refers to false information which is shared without any intention of causing harm. Misinformations are forwarded without fact check, which is a consequence of lack of proper knowledge, whereas disinformation is fake information which has been deliberately created and shared to cause harm.[10] Disinformations are mainly generated strategically by business personnel to change the market, particularly sanitizers or masks, and politicians to make polarization to achieve the political benefit.

In the present investigation, we are trying to explore that how fake news and misinformations related to COVID-19 circulated on social media and how such news creating the negative impact on society. We are also discussing the possible measures to curb fake news. For this purpose, online survey was carried using a questionnaire on Google Forms. The prepared questionnaire was sent to peoples through e-mails, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter for online survey. The participants were also encouraged to share the link of online survey to their friends and other known. The survey was carried out in the time period of May 08, 2020–May 14, 2020, and 920 peoples are participated in online survey. The data collected from the online survey were used for further analysis.

[Figure 1] shows the results of online survey on fake news related to COVID-19 on social media in India. [Figure 1]a indicates that a lot of unauthentic and fake news related to COVID-19 are circulating on social media. From figure, it clear that about 90.8% of participants agreed about fake news on social media (36.8% strongly agreed and 54% agreed), and also more than 27% of participants accept that they do not check the authenticity of news on social media [Figure 1]b. This result is in good agreement with previously organized survey.[11] The several fake news of COVID-19 is also spreading on the social media and which creates the panic in the society as indicated in [Figure 1]c. More than 95% of the participants in the online survey agreed that fake news about the COVID-19 develops the panic in citizens. Communal accusations are also being propagated in the country on the pretext of COVID-19, in which disharmony is being created in the society [Figure 1]d. Thus, it is essential to stop the fake news about COVID-19 on social media by regulatory authority as expected by 92% of participants of this survey [Figure 1]e. About 96% of respondents believe that fake news spread on social media should come under punitive action [Figure 1]f.
Figure 1: Results of online survey of questions: (a) A lot of unauthentic and fake news related to COVID-19 are circulating on social media. (b) Do you check the authenticity of news received from social media. (c) With reference to COVID-19, fake news received from social media creates panic in the society. (d) Online in India, people are creating disharmony with fake news related to COVID-19. (e) The concerned officials should make efforts to stop fake news related to COVID-19 on social media and (f) There should be punitive/disciplinary action against those who spread fake news on social media

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Fake news is a global phenomenon which is not limited to COVID-19 and boundary of countries. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, has addressed the Munich Security Conference on February 15, 2020, and quoted “we're not just fighting an epidemic; we're fighting an infodemic.”[12] Fake news and misinformations about COVID-19 travel more faster than the COVID-19 and make the confusions among the peoples.[13] The WHO has also draw its attention for fake news and tries to resolve by making awareness by dashboard link of “Myth busters” on its web portal.[6] Behind misleading informations and fake news, sometimes, political ambition and gaining of television rating point by electronic media and gaining in business are involved. Moreover, fake news is also strategically planned to disturb the society and market by certain conspirators. Social media platforms, particularly WhatsApp and Facebook, are the main media to spread the fake news or misinformation. In previous outbreaks, the social media platforms are not much popular, so only a limited number of misinformation are circulated on social media as seen in case of 2009 H1N1 outbreak, only 4.5% of misinformations were observed. The traditional media were found to be more effective than social media in South Korea during the Middle East respiratory syndrome epidemic and play the unique role in acquiring knowledge. Traditional media did not translate to behavioral change, unlike to social media.[14] However, in the present case, the social media are stronger than all previous cases. Thus, it is essential to control the social media that are main cause to spread the misinformation. Moreover, the disinformations are controlled by governments to control the market rules (for business gain), electronic media telecast (for total radiated power gain), and political ambition (for political gain) during pandemic.[15] However, the disinformations spread for political ambitions are not easy to control due to the involvement of ruling parties also, whereas other cases are handed in easier way as compared to political ambitions. The spread of misinformation is also a result of a lack of appropriate knowledge of COVID-19, fact check tools, and regulatory framework. The international fact-checking network is providing tools to verify the authenticity of news. BOOM, WebQoof Vishvas News, Factly, and Fact Crescendo are emerging fact-checking tools. Recently, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Algerian have passed a law for punishment to those who are involved in fake news.[16] China has tried to enforce the laws to curb the fake news, but sometimes, the actual news is also suppressed by China as done in the case of Li Wenliang, who warns about severe acute respiratory syndrome-like illness on December 30, 2020.[17] In India, the existing laws under Sections 153 and 295 of the Indian Penal Code are available to curb the fake news causes riots and injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion, respectively. Under the Section 54 of Disaster Management Act 2005, the fake and alarming news are punishable with imprisonment up to a year. Moreover, the punitive law under Section 66 of Information Technology Act 2000 also exists. However, there is no provision of punishment for fake news related to epidemic in the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897. In addition, the execution of laws is also a great problem in India due to political interference. Therefore, it is an urgent demand of today to make provision of punishment in Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 for spreading the fake news related to COVID-19 and its proper execution.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Wang H, Wang Z, Dong Y, Chang R, Xu C, Yu X, et al. Phase-adjusted estimation of the number of coronavirus disease 2019 cases in Wuhan, China. Cell Discov 2020;6:10.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
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Kadam AB, Atre SR. Negative impact of social media panic during the COVID-19 outbreak in India. J Travel Med 2020;27:1-2.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
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Rakesh D, Yadav AK, Singh A, Datta K, Bansal A. The infodemics of COVID-19 amongst healthcare professionals in India. Med J Armed Forces India 2020;76:276-83.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
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Wang Y, McKee M, Torbica A, Stuckler D. Systematic Literature Review on the Spread of Health-related Misinformation on Social Media. Soc Sci Med 2019;240:112552.  Back to cited text no. 10
    
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Available from: https://www.statista.com/topics/5846/fake-news-in-india/. [Last accessed on 2020 Jul 15].  Back to cited text no. 11
    
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The Lancet. COVID-19: fighting panic with information. Lancet 2020;395:537.  Back to cited text no. 12
    
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Depoux A, Martin S, Karafillakis E, Preet R, Wilder-Smith A, Larson H. The pandemic of social media panic travels faster than the COVID-19 outbreak. J Travel Med 2020;27:1-2.  Back to cited text no. 13
    
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Seo M. Amplifying panic and facilitating prevention: Multifaceted effects of traditional and social media use during the 2015 MERS crisis in South Korea. J Mass Commun Q 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699019857693  Back to cited text no. 14
    
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Chew C, Eysenbach G. Pandemics in the age of Twitter: Content analysis of Tweets during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. PLoS One 2010;5:e14118.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
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Larson HJ. Blocking information on COVID-19 can fuel the spread of misinformation. Nature 2020;580:306.  Back to cited text no. 17
    


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