The history of mankind saw several epidemics and pandemics, but COVID-19 is the first pandemic in history where technology and social media are being used extensively. This overuse has led to widespread health rumours, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to call the pandemican INFODEMIC.
Nowadays, regarding COVID, there is a plethora of information. In this, it is difficult for people to identify genuine and reliable sources among false or misleading sources. Health information is often published and shared on social media, especially in the current state of emergency. Misinformation and rumours are further shared even after their veracity is unproven.
The most denting among such rumour is about the COVID-19 vaccine. Due to misinformation, people are hesitating to take the vaccine. This hesitation was placed by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 threats to global health.
How infodemic is related to a pandemic?
According to WHO, an infodemic is a too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak. It causes confusion and risk-taking behaviours that can harm health. It also leads to mistrust in health authorities and undermines the public health response.
The 20th-century ecosystem was dominated by print and broadcast media, but now this space has undergone rapid changes and is currently dominated by digital, mobile and social media. The lack of filtering information on online platforms reduces trust from any authentication mechanism.
Health emergencies of such scale give rise to confusion, ambiguity, anxiety and uncertainty, leading to health rumours. Above that, the accuracy, veracity, and reliability of the source are ignored by people, especially on social media where the users already have a lot of information.
Several studies have found that during crises (such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, global pandemics), rumour sharing acts as a conflict mechanism. This causes people to have an illusion of relief, such that the anxiety or fear associated with an uncertain situation is reduced momentarily.
In a developing country like India, the rumour can lay a significant negative impact, such as mistrust of health institutions and experts, misunderstandings related to strong of Indians, fear related to rapid vaccine development. These factors corroborate misinformation widely circulated on social media.
Need of the hour
Veering the role of social media to positivity. Although social media is acting as a fertile ground for spreading dangerous rumours, it can also act as a better source of important information. Governments and health agencies should establish a trustworthy portal to bust misinformation. Besides, celebrities and influential personalities on social media can motivate people to take the vaccine.
Form the other end, Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp should be proactive in connecting features that help users access verified information. These intermediaries should multiply their efforts to filter out misinformation and dispel health rumours faster.
The responsibility of individuals is to verify the authentic source of fact. Double-checking with some fact-checking websites. In case of ambiguity, one must seek some expert opinion on a particular issue. Besides, implementing rational thinking while consuming forwarded news on social media.
Today, India’s central crisis is the lack of vaccines and data on it is insufficient. It would be a mistake to ignore the role of data inadequacies even as supply increases, it is worth noting that the real challenge will not be on the supply, but to ensure that citizens understand that vaccine is the most effective protective mechanism currently known and available.