Social media is a platform that connects many. A vast pool of information is available on social media. This information is sourced through various channels such as news/media outlets, channels that source information from these outlets, people uploading life experiences, and more.
The information available on social media can be divided into two categories: credible information and fake information. Credible information is well-researched information, contains substantial proof, and is unbiased. Fake information on the other hand is either information that is circulated on purpose to fuel propaganda or mere lack of data.
In the last year, the human race has seen the manifestation of the Coronavirus, the effects of which we are seeing to date. The coronavirus impacted humans severely. Over this year, we have witnessed numerous deaths and lost loved ones, witnessed the downfall of businesses and economies, and more. One would think that in such times, we would show compassion, sympathy, support, and stand united to fight this virus. It has been seen that people are raising to the cause but some are taking advantage of the situation, meddling with the emotions of people, and spreading misinformation or ‘fake news’ which is severely hampering the sanity of the people and the workings of the government.
Impact of Fake News and Potential Damages
1. Creation of confusion:
Confusion is created when people cannot differentiate between the real and fake news and they see no way to clear this confusion. For people with limited access to information and resources, this confusion can cause chaos. During the pandemic, we have seen confusion take over the smooth functioning of various activities such as the transportation of migrants, the workings of industries and businesses, the vaccination procedures, the misinformation on the do’s and don’ts, and much more.
The confusion, misrepresentation, and spread of false news created chaos among the citizens. Those with a lack of financial resources were struggling to provide for their families and basic needs while some were worried about their loved ones due to unknown confirmation on the information available.
The fake news not only instigates this kind of confusion and worrisome situations but also hampers the functioning of the efforts put in to avoid such situations.
2. Delayed action for health issues:
Fake news leads to a slow process of taking action towards one’s health or a loved one’s health. During the pandemic, there was fake news about the symptoms of Covid-19, how it should be treated, the various alleged medicines and treatments that would cure the sickness, the hospitals providing aid for Covid and non-covid patients and more. This fake news slowed the process of people asking medical personnel for help which then resulted in the condition of the patient and the numbers of people infected with the virus to worsen.
3. Impact on health:
The pandemic has not only harmed people physically but has also increased the emotional problems that people potentially suffer from. Fake news about certain hospitals, institutions, people providing aid slows the process of people in dire need getting aid. This not only increases the risk of an individual facing the worst circumstances but also increases the helplessness of people especially those with minimum means of communication, finances, and other resources.
Also read: Impact of COVID-19 on Indian Education
Fake news increases the level of stress in every individual that can proceed to cause emotional and physical problems. Fake news about and activities in the pandemic has increasingly caused concern to many. Individuals living in different nations are constantly worried about their loved ones due to the credibility of information, people whose livelihoods have been drastically affected are unable to provide for themselves and their families due to the same reason, senior citizens living alone are worried about the process through which they can go about their daily activities and more.
This increases the stress and anxiety levels in an individual which is harmful to an individual emotionally and physically.
4. Hindering the workings of the government:
One of the biggest problems of fake news is that the activities and efforts of the government are rendered futile or its process slows down. This is because fake news tends to catch the attention of an individual and the news is considered to be believable. While the government makes an effort to implement certain norms and measures, this fake news creates chaos and dissatisfaction among the citizens. Hate comments, lack of clarity, protests, and people fuelling propaganda-increase the government’s work of providing clarity and making an effort to convince the citizens to follow the norms and measures and provide information on the benefits of doing so. This also delays the actions undertaken by the government to reduce the spread of covid-19 and provide safe platforms for the treatment of the illness.
Avoid Fake News
The impact of fake news is quite harsh but is something that can be avoided. Fake news is subjective and the effect it is reduced when rationality is applied. There are means through which the impact and the spread of fake news can be avoided.
In times of the Coronavirus, while people are struggling with helplessness and numerous other problems, an individual has to have a certain level of sympathy, compassion, and concern for others. If one is unable to provide aid or help, the least that an individual can do is to not be the bearer of fake news and instigate chaos.
2. Referring to legitimate sources:
Everything on social media is not legitimate. An individual can refer to legitimate sources on social media such as the website of the World Health Organisation for detailed information on Covid-19, government websites and social media pages, media outlet’s channels and social media platforms, and other legitimate sources.
One should avoid referring to stranger’s social media profiles and platforms and one should not believe every forwarded message sent on WhatsApp groups or circles.
If one wishes to confirm the reliability of the information, he/she can ask an individual proficient in the subject matter or someone with experience in the same field or access news websites to confirm whether the information is true or false.
An individual should not lose hope or let emotions cloud their judgment. One should use their rationality and wit to understand whether the sources of the information are correct and whether the information has reliable grounding.
4. Avoid panic or chaos:
In case one finds themselves in an emergency or in a situation where one is helpless, one should avoid panicking and stress. This helps the thinking process to get clearer and ways to resolve the situation can be found.
The Coronavirus has taken over our lives, but that does not mean that we need to make situations difficult for us as well. Fake news has always been there and will continue to spread. The impact of fake news can be reduced if every individual uses their intelligence and rationality. And if one finds themselves in need of aid, numerous people, the government, and institutions are willing to provide aid but it can only be provided if asked for. It is only with a unity that we can emerge from these difficult times.