Chennai: One of the ways the internet claims you can test yourself for the coronavirus COVID-19, which shows up with symptoms such as sore throat, fever and cough, is to hold your breath for 10 seconds. If you can hold your breath for 10 seconds without tightness in your chest, coughing or any discomfort or tiredness, you don’t have the virus, claim posts sharing false information on social media.
Some of these posts come with the addendum that the information was leaked from an internal AIIMS report or was reported by the BBC, to fool people into believing that the false information is credible.
Another trick used by those spreading fake news is the ominous message, “Here’s what the media is not telling you’, which prompts the public to mistrust mainstream media.
In India, even leaders of political and social outfits are openly spreading fake news saying that cow urine (gaumutra) is useful in warding off the coronavirus, making it tougher for social media to police the information being posted online.
While Google has been removing YouTube videos that tout unscientific tests and fake self-medication hacks, and restricts search engine results on coronavirus to official sources alone, Facebook has clamped down on ads with inflated prices for face masks and Twitter has highlighted official handles while downgrading suspicious ones. Apple and Google have also removed coronavirus-related apps from their stores.
Despite this, it becomes difficult to muzzle the spread of fake news, as gullible social media users end up amplifying ostensible quick-fix solutions to deal with the outbreak. User-generated content is the bread-and-butter of the internet ecosystem, and it has now become the monster that is spreading the fake news pandemic as people panic about the coronavirus pandemic.
Public service announcements by telecom providers and television channels are some ways in which the misinformation menace is being tackled. But if social media users don’t stop believing and sharing every hack that’s thrown their way, the risk of the spread of coronavirus infection due to misinformed practices is a clear and present danger.