India’s two-fold war against nCovid-19 and misinformation

Kajal Parmar

With the spread of nCovid-19 in India, social media has flooded with number of fake news and misinformation.  The fake news business has spawned in India under the lockdown. These manipulative misinformation and news are creating blockade for various crucial services like health care, active case finding campaigns, check-ups of suspected Corona cases, quarantine facilities and many more in the country to prevent corona virus outbreak.

Recently, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh a medical team who went to identify the possible cases of Covid-19 was attacked. The mob pelted stones and chased away the health workers. This attack happened after a fake video circulated over social media claiming healthy people were allegedly taken away by the heath workers and were injected with virus (The Indian Express, 2020). In an another incident in Moradabad,  Uttar Pradesh the mob brutally attacked health workers  and police personnel who went for a check-up of corona virus suspected cases (India TV, 2020). The wire reported multiple incidents of attack on health workers in various parts of India because of the stigma and fear stimulated by fake information on social media related to the novel corona virus (The Wire, 2020).  The vicious assaults on health workers and the police personnel serving the country amid corona outbreak are halting its determined efforts to battle against this lethal virus. With the frail and anaemic healthcare system of the country, the misinformation, fake news and rumours flooded on social media are worsening the situation.

From drinking cow urine, to the combination of various medicines, unverified posts advocating the intake of various Vitamin supplements, ginger-lemon tea, alcohol to treat virus and to improve the immunity. All these posts are gaining traction over social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp and many more. As BBC News reported that in India many news channels too fall prey to the misleading information on Corona virus (BBC News, 2020).  The various social media forwards and shared posts are as dangerous as the virus itself. The recent brutal murder of Sadhus by violent mob in Bagalpur district of Maharashtra as they fall victim to some fake information shook the nation. Despite the various efforts made by the social media platforms, to prevent the spread of fake news and misinformation, these are still getting rounds over the internet.  

Media literacy has always remained a topic untouched in India with far-reaching impacts from a soft story to incite barbaric mob lynching and murders.  This pandemic is exacerbating the problem of misinformation in India. With more than 280 million estimated Facebook users in the country (Statista, 2020), and Tik-Tok with most downloaded application in India with over 800 million users ( India Today, 2020) media literacy has become the need of the hour. Now almost everyone is on social media, sharing whatever they feel is right, liking any post they agree to, believing any forward message and thus accepting them as hard core truth without verifying the sources and their authenticity. With this trend of the free flow of misinformation through social media platforms like Whatsapp with infamous “Whatsapp University”, Twitter, Facebook and Tik-Tok, it has become very crucial to take stringent steps to avoid challenges of this fake news crisis in the nation.  

The government of India has asked the social media platforms to remove the users spreading fake news in an effort to fight back with fake news and misinformation amid the pandemic (India Today, 2020).  The State governments also combating this misinformation crisis by spreading awareness, informing the citizens, appealing them through their social media handlers to not believe or spread, forward and share posts, rumours over social media without verifying their credibility. The authorities have taken strict actions against those spreading rumours and misleading news over social media.

This pandemic has come with number of important and eye-opener lessons for us to learn. It has not only staged us the need for improved health infrastructure, increase in health care investment, a dire need of health communication, more fact-checking agencies and last but not least the urgent need of media literacy to every citizen of India.

1. The Indian Express. Fake videos behind the attack on health workers in Indore, four booked under NSA. 3 April, 2020.
2. India TV. Health workers, police officials attacked by mob in UP’s Moradabad. 15 April. 2020.
3. The Wire. The doctors come under attack in India as Corona stigma grows. 15 April, 2020.
4. BBC News. Corona Virus: Herbal remedies in India and other claims fact-checked. 19 April, 2020.
5. Statista. Number of facebook users in India from 2015 to 2018 with a forecast until 2023. 31 march, 2020.
6. India Today. Government asks facebook and Tik-Tok to remove users spreading fake news. 9 April, 2020.

Kajal Parmar is a Ph. D Research Scholar in the school of Journalism, Mass Communication and Electronic Media, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala, India.

May 8, 2020

Kajal Parmar

Your Comment if any