Writer: Anusha T.
Visual: Andi L.
Editor: Norbu D.
The world is under an unprecedented lockdown, and everything we know has changed. Many of us have responded by seeking out information that will tell us how to act, how to be safe, and what to be afraid of– hoping for news that will give us some control over our lives. Suddenly everyone is reading up to become an expert on pandemics; whether you are pro-isolation or pro- herd-immunity; whether you believe vaccines can save us or everyone is doomed. Opinions may differ but all of us are scared and want solutions now.
These circumstances provide the perfect ingredients for people who want to misuse the chaos for their own agenda. They deliberately spread misinformation by preying on people’s fears and biases and do it in a way that makes it very hard for people to tell what is fake from real.
Some of the stories around the world are plain ridiculous. One major source of fake news is the COVID-19 cure. N. Varella states, “With no official cure for COVID-19, everyone and their mother is a doctor. There’s nothing wrong with consuming lots of garlic, sesame oil, and water, but there’s also no proof that these ingredients can cure the coronavirus…A politician from Florida claimed that blowing a hairdryer up your nose will cure the illness. Iran’s fake news turned out to be more deadly, with over 200 people killed from drinking toxic alcohol.“
People have also been speculating on corona’s impact on the environment as the decrease in human activity has helped other animal species prosper. However outrageous rumors such as Putin releasing lions to keep people from going out, dolphins in the Venice canal, and elephants in a farm in China stretch the limits of fantasy.
Of course, fake news is not a new phenomenon. However, what is dangerous about the times we live in is that social media allows fake news to spread globally and instantly. Another factor is that in these times “of high fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow.” UNESCO continues on to state, “The big risk is that any single falsehood that gains traction can negate the significance of a body of true facts.”.
In our home of the Philippines, there are also examples of misinformation scandals–one such incident even sparked diplomatic tensions with Taipei. 23 people are being investigated for committing cyber libel and creating fake news; out of which, “Criminal charges have been filed against three people. Gammad said those convicted could be jailed from between one and six months and fined 40,000-200,000 pesos (US$790-US$3940).” (South China Morning Post).
So how do we identify between fake news and real news? Well, for starters, The Guardian states “When you see a WhatsApp message about ‘A friend who is an A&E doctor at a leading hospital … ‘, don’t assume it is reliable, even if it came from your own friend. Don’t, even with the best of intentions, tell your other friends about it.”. They also suggest using apps like FullFact to check the validity of your source. Even experts sometimes are proved wrong, and this is where it gets tougher to determine who is right. There isn’t much a reader can do about this; however, the sheer urgency of this issue is forcing more and more researchers to be “more explicit about what their findings do and do not mean”(The Guardian). All in all, we should take everything we read with a pinch of salt, and exercise caution before we make a choice to share.
Ball, Philip. “Cure Yourself of Fake News: How to Read about the Coronavirus.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 Apr. 2020, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/11/the-cure-for-fake-news-how-to-read-about-the-coronavirus.
Delimont, Danita. “Fake Animal News Abounds on Social Media as Coronavirus Upends Life.” National Geographic, 21 Mar. 2020, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-fake-animal-viral-social-media-posts/.
“False Claim: Putin Released Lions on the Streets of Russia to Enforce Coronavirus Lockdown.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 25 Mar. 2020, http://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-putin-lions-coronavirus-loc/false-claim-putin-released-lions-on-the-streets-of-russia-to-enforce-coronavirus-lockdown-idUSKBN21C371.
“Philippine Police Investigate 23 for Coronavirus ‘Fake News’, Cyber Libel.” South China Morning Post, 1 May 2020, http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3082388/philippine-police-investigate-23-coronavirus-fake-news-cyber.