Fake news and COVID-19, a neverending saga

The major source of fake news was WhatsApp with 88.4 per cent respondents reporting it, followed by Facebook (reported by 42.5 per cent) and Instagram (reported by 21.96 per cent).
(From left) Founder Amitabh Kumar with the Social Media Matters Team
(From left) Founder Amitabh Kumar with the Social Media Matters Team

Fake news witnessed an alltime high during the pandemic. A survey done by Social Media Matters (social media ninjas working for social change), along with the Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics (a think tank initiative dedicated for public policy research and analysis) has revealed that 69 per cent of people received fake news during the lockdown.

The major source of fake news was WhatsApp with 88.4 per cent respondents reporting it, followed by Facebook (reported by 42.5 per cent) and Instagram (reported by 21.96 per cent). The fake news included the details of repatriation flights, preventive measures, and treatment for COVID-19, information regarding containment zones or impending lockdowns in various areas, etc. Social Media Matters Founder Amitabh Kumar says that on witnessing an increase in fake news regarding COVID-19, they decided to do the survey.

Questionnaires in Hindi and English were filled out by 3,752 respondents from across India. While the majority of participants are between 18 to 25 years old (2,766 respondents), it was closely followed by the age group of 25 to 35 with 565 respondents. The survey was supported by Sarvahitey and Youth Online Learning Opportunities. Dr Manish Tiwari, Senior Fellow, IGPP, said, “Social media is becoming the new carrier of infodemics in these times of pandemic.

From the figures, it is clear that young people are being targeted to further spread the misinformation and fake news as they are prime users of social media platforms.” According to the survey, 69 per cent respondents reported receiving fake news regarding COVID-19 during the lockdown, and 84 per cent stated that they don’t trust such news. Since the news is being spread in huge numbers, people have also become vigilant. Seventy percent of the respondents reported cross checking and verifying news which seemed fake.

The major sources of fact checking were Google Search (48.8 per cent) and Government sources (36.6 per cent). A total of 76 per cent people said that they informed others about the fake news, once recognised. “While 89 per cent were aware that the dissemination of fake news is a crime as per the law, only 30 per cent reported such news because 68 per cent didn’t know the online mechanism to report it. About 95 per cent feel that there is a need to raise more awareness on the reporting mechanisms,” informs Kumar, adding, “This information will help the government and tech platforms create better policies and tools to curb this infodemic of misinformation. But a lot of work still needs to be done by social media platforms to achieve this. We need to take up a systematic approach to ensure we build capacities of fact seeking.”

Survey highlights

According to the survey, 69 per cent respondents reported receiving fake news regarding COVID-19 during the lockdown, and 84 per cent stated that they don’t trust such news. Since the news is being spread in huge numbers, people have also become vigilant. Seventy percent of the respondents reported cross checking and verifying news which seemed fake. The major sources of fact checking were Google Search (48.8 per cent) and Government sources (36.6 per cent). A total of 76 per cent people said that they informed others about the fake news, once recognised.

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The New Indian Express
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