Fighting the virus of fake news in the time of coronavirus
KATHMANDU — On Saturday, an audio clip suddenly went viral. In the widely shared clip, a person is heard saying six people tested positive for Covid-19 at a private hospital in Kathmandu. At a time when the general public is concerned about the possible spread of the virus that causes Covid-19, the audio clip could have easily prompted panic.
The person in the audio clip was giving reference to Norvic Hospital in Thapathali, which within hours put up a public notice, clarifying that the audio was fake. Issuing a statement, Norvic Hospital also called for action against those who spread the fake information.
Police took cognizance of the incident and said they were launching an investigation.
Later on Saturday afternoon, police arrested 20-year-old Bibek Thapa Magar of Ramechhap, who currently lives in Sipadole, Bhaktapur.
Magar had initially shared the “news” on Facebook on Friday evening, but by Saturday morning the accompanying audio clip had been circulated widely through various social media platforms and instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber.
“We arrested the youth at around 3pm,” an inspector at the Central Cyber Bureau of Nepal Police told the Post on the condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak with the media.
During interrogation, Magar confirmed his involvement in circulating the audio clip from his Facebook page.
“Investigation is underway,” said the inspector.
Over the past few weeks amid the Covid-19 outbreak, fake news and information have flooded social media platforms across the globe.
While Covid-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the proliferation of fake news about the disease has been branded “infodemic”, given the threat it could pose to communities.
Officials and experts say people today live in the digital age and just as Covid-19 is spreading fast, fake news is spreading equally fast on social media.
What is more concerning is, according to them, spread of fake information oftentimes may lead to erosion of trust in the government, which creates an even more dangerous situation.
According to Prabhakar Pokharel, a psychologist at Kist Medical College, fake news can be more dangerous than the virus, as it spreads very quickly.
Pokharel said there are different types of fake information currently circulating in society via different platforms.
“While some information is misleading with claims that the coronavirus will not affect Nepalis and others are spreading rumours about people testing positive,” Pokharel told the Post. “We need to steer clear of both types of false information.”
Experts globally have called on people to check a few points before deriving a conclusion from any information they receive on social media or instant messaging services.
They say people must look for “source” when they receive any piece of news or information.
“Social media users should not share news about the coronavirus without verifying the source,” said Advocate Baburam Aryal, who specialises in cyber law. “Social media users should only trust the information provided by medical experts, government and the World Health Organisation.”
According to experts, in the time of crisis, it becomes the social responsibility of individual members of the public also to extend support to the government.
Psychologists say social media users at times feel so compelled to share the information they receive, without checking the facts. This tendency, in general, makes some posts go viral.
Some experts even draw a parallel between the spread of fake news and the virus.
Just like the virus, a fake post starts from somewhere, and as it spreads, it becomes viral, often mutates, adding more misleading information and then crosses languages, making things much more complicated.
“The tendency also shows how social media users often consume information,” said Aryal. “Everyone must exercise prudence and think twice before sharing any piece of information they receive.”
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