Dr Asangba Tzüdir
As the world continues to battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, side by side, it is confronting another pandemic which equally dangerous and possibly more infectious than the former. Though not on the scale of the number of physical deaths caused, it has its own damaging effects. The Director-General of World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was right when he stated in March last that, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic” – a phenomenon that is appalling, insensitive, dangerous and even plainly stupid.
Finding reliable information in this age of information and the digital era is indeed challenging especially during a global pandemic rife with fake news, hyped sensationalism, misinformation and exaggeration. One of the earliest misinformation claimed that drinking alcohol provides protection from COVID-19. Now, what about the known fact that alcohol weakens the immune system and lowers the body resistance?
Such forms of news have not only created fear but a chain of inevitable events leading to panic, speculation and the spread of misinformation causing more anxiety; the spread propelled by ever-present technology. Technology and social media have become a lifeline now and especially during this pandemic, whispers, rumours and outright lies making up for the fake news, can spread around the world faster than ever before. Such actions have had been causing a lot of damages.
Often it is quite difficult to comprehend the operative psyche of certain people which goes against the legal directive by way of flashing or spreading unnecessarily detailed information, for instance, the name of the person infected by COVID-19 along with a photo and job profile, and soliciting prayers as if these bios are prerequisites for seeking the Lord in prayer. Worst is highlighting the health condition as ‘critical’ even when the patient is perfectly stable. Besides generating fear, one may think about the kind of hurt inflicted on the individual and the concerned family being portrayed as a social pariah.
In a similar strain, such fake news also adds to the fear psyche of the already stereotyped people making it difficult to ‘welcome home’ the quarantined people or those who had earlier tested positive and recovered. Where will they go for home quarantine after their mandatory institutional quarantine is done?
An instance of fake news generation is also played by the already created fear psychosis. Akin to a silent film without subtitles, the sight of an ambulance coming to a quarantine centre or to a paid hotel and taking away of some occupants are taken as substantive evidence to spread fake news while the scene may be simply a case of sample collection and testing.
The way in which coronavirus started, its nature or the pattern of spread to the severity of infection, there are still lots to be fully understood about COVID-19. And this, in essence, is the reason behind the spread of fake news making it an infodemic.
Thus, there is need to embrace uncertainty responsibly. Where is the information coming from? The source of information is something that should be mindful of and see whether it is in any way misinterpreted, because there are chances of the information being fake, or reinterpreted or modified. It is important to think twice especially when certain ‘truth claims’ are not backed by evidence. Furthermore, we also need to be mindful of our actions concerning the world of social media, so also the impacts and consequences of our action. It does not simply add to the infodemic but more so contributes to ‘racism.’
(Dr Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to the Morung Express. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org)