A report from a province of Iran reveals that more people had died from drinking industrial-strength alcohol. This happened due to a false claim that the alcohol could protect from COVID-19 infection. While in the US, YouGov and the Economist released a poll result in March 2020. It showed that 13% of Americans believed the COVID-19 crisis was a hoax. Another 49% assumed that the pandemic might be man-made.
Unfortunately, apparently harmless misinformation could lead people to a deceptive sense of security. More importantly, it takes people away from adhering to government guidelines and believing in health officials and organisations.
Fake news around the COVID-19 pandemic itself is turning into a pandemic. It is sad that individuals from the public itself are serving as ‘vectors of rumours transmission.’ From Facebook to WhatsApp misinformation is spreading. Most of them are on ‘what caused the outbreak’ and ‘how you can prevent becoming ill.’
The social media giants along with nations, and WHO are working on busting pages. The WHO in specific is keeping a myth-busting page which is regularly updated. So, let’s move on to see how regions in different parts of the world are tackling the COVID-19 misinformation pandemic.
The Rumoured Relationship Between 5G and Coronavirus
Broadband engineers in the UK are receiving verbal threats and physical abuse against mobile phone masts. The attacks are coming from people fallen prey to misinformation that radiation from 5G masts can be linked to coronavirus. It’s unfortunate that even some celebrities in the British kingdom are spreading the rumour on social media.
UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove marked it as “dangerous nonsense.” The government, scientists, city leaders, and network operators have spoken out to condemn the “disinformation.”
The government is also having a talk with social media platforms to kill the spread of such rumours relating to COVID-19. Such rumours could lead to dangerous consequences when mobile phones are working as a critical means of communication. Especially, when the entire world is in lockdown – following social distancing. And when many people are away from their families and relatives.
Mast fires have been reported in the Liverpool region. Thereafter, Liverpool City Council made an official announcement that “there is no credible evidence of a link between 5G and coronavirus.” Telecom industry is key in fighting the coronavirus crises and it plays a vital role in helping save lives.
GSMA, the mobile sector trade group has asked the industry to unite in the global fight against coronavirus. It is urging to fight the misinformation and violent actions that are associating 5G communication technology with the spread of the virus.
In this initiative, Vodafone UK, EE and O2 have collectively appealed to the customers to help put a stop on misinformation-sharing.
Ofcom, the governing body for the telecommunications industry in the UK recently measured radiofrequency emission from 5G equipment. Its report released in February found that emission levels were within the safe limit. UK ministers have also committed to providing more clarification around 5G and bus health myths.
Newspapers Spread Novel Coronavirus – Fake News
For centuries, newspapers have served people with more trustworthy news. Of course, TV channels are great in terms of visual context. However, nothing could replace newspapers where you get to read ‘written information.’
While millions of people trust newspapers to receive reliable information, it is being linked with the spread of COVID-19. The rumour abounds on social media platforms.
But the International News Media Association (INMA) has collated scientific evidence to debunk the myth. It is promoting healthy news media practices – clarifying there is no risk of catching the infection via newspapers.
The INMA website has listed a host of evidence that establishes the safety of handling newspapers. An argument was also opened about how there is no report of coronavirus being transmitted through the newsprint. The global body also clarified the potency of COVID-19 on inanimate objects and porous surfaces such as newspapers is lowest. As a matter of fact, most of the major newspaper publications follow an automated process – proven to be hygienic. Furthermore, the WHO has clearly stated that any person delivering newspapers does not infect the receiver.
Besides, George Lomonossoff, a virologist at the John Innes Centre, UK also helps bust this myth. He said that newspapers are extremely sterile. It’s because of the way they are printed and the process they have been through. Traditionally, people have eaten fish and chips out of newspapers for the same reason. The ink and the print used in making them is quite sterile.
COVID-19 Awareness Dashboard
For the first time, the Boston Department of Innovation and Technology’s Citywide Analytics Team launched two dashboards. These allow citizens to track the number of coronavirus cases in Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the entire US.
The first dashboard displays a daily breakdown graph of the coronavirus spread in Massachusetts. It tracks daily updates from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) for the number of cases. Whereas the second dashboard displays information specific to the city of Boston. It provides updates on daily cases, recovered cases and total cases. In addition, it also tracks the levels of testing done throughout the US.
This initiative is a part of a suite of digital tools available to residents to keep them updated with reliable information. This includes texting service in six languages, digital resources and factsheets, and online city services. As per Mayor Marty Walsh, these dashboards help in following public health guidelines to keep the city safe.
The dashboards focus on public health guidelines and track the number of cases. However, other smart cities around the world can use such technology to kill rumours or misinformation related to coronavirus.The awareness dashboard can display facts and figures.
WhatsApp Chatbot As Myth Buster
On 20 March, the Government of India launched MyGov Corona Helpdesk to fight fake news related to COVID-19. The service is in the form of a WhatsApp chatbot designed to raise awareness about the coronavirus pandemic. So far, 20 million people have already availed the service.
With an easy-to-use conversational system, the chatbot answers questions related to COVID-19. It explains the symptoms of the infection, how it is transmitted and precautionary measures to safeguard against the virus. In addition, it provides information on official government helplines for further assistance. Besides, it also provides links to additional resources for those who would like to know more about the disease.
More importantly, citizens receive instant replies to their queries – or if they need any help. The government of India implemented the MyGov Corona Helpdesk on Whatsapp as it is the world’s largest messaging platform. It has more than 400 million users in India.
The information distributed to citizens through the chatbot is provided by the Indian Ministry of Health. Currently, it supports English language only. As per AI specialist Haptik Technologies based in Mumbai, over 55 million messages have been sent by 20 million users.
The citizens’ privacy is also taken care of. The government does not share the identities of app users to third parties. That said, the app asks an individual’s name and age. And this is used for mass surveillance, as per a major news report.
Similarly, Goa, a state in India has rolled out a chatbot called ‘Cobot-19’. The initiative is in partnership with healthcare startup Portea Medical and Bengaluru-based automation firm Verloop. The bot answers a query on coronavirus in three languages including English.
Such initiatives are essential for every nation in the world, as rumours cannot just be dangerous. They spread at a shockingly greater speed than coronavirus. But with that, it is crucial that individuals around the world act responsibly and stop sending messages that can cause panic.