New study of almost 2,000 articles involving COVID-19 misinformation helps UN and others combat rumours and keep people safe

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how conflicting, manipulated information and misinformation spreading through social media paves the way … Business Wire India
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how conflicting, manipulated information and misinformation spreading through social media paves the way for a potential public-health threat. Right from the source of the virus, its “cures” and prevention methods to vaccines, the internet has been flooded with misinformation across platforms, in various forms and languages. 
Earlier this year, the United Nations launched ‘Verified’, in response to COVID-19 infodemic. Verified focuses on empowering people to help combat false information by sharing only trusted information, fact-based advice and stories from the best of humanity. The initiative has been supported by an array of individuals and organisations across the globe. In India, Flipkart, Tata Group, Mahindra, Raftaar and many others have all joined hands to share the message that you should Take Care Before You Share. The campaign aimed at addressing the behaviour which enables the virality of misinformation. Many examples of the fake news which went viral can be seen in the recent study conducted by NewsChecker, an independent fact-checking initiative of NC Media Networks Pvt Ltd. which joined the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance led by the International Fact-Checking Network.   

The study titled “Misinformation in India : A reflection of the Society” revealed that the largest category of claims labelled as false or misleading, focused on the cure and spread of the virus as well as had content that challenged or questioned government authority. The findings are based on the research done on 1,974 articles related to politics, government, COVID-19 and other themes published by NewsChecker in eight languages from December 2019 to October 2020. In the analysis, it was found that coronavirus-related claims dominated the news cycle in March, around the time when the World Health Organisation declared Coronavirus Disease-2019 a pandemic. In terms of the type of media, most claims that were verified came in the form of images followed by videos. This pool of claims also included a small number of links and audio. 
The study also highlighted the reasons behind sharing of misinformation by people. These included personal biases and ideologies and trust in the sender instead of the content itself. Misinformation spreads through a gap in demand and supply of reliable information. Intuitively, during a crisis, demand for information increases significantly. And like with any demand it has to be met with supply. One such type of supply comes in the form of misinformation. When individuals or groups push out what they think is true, and with social media platforms today, this information gets propagated widely.
Speaking on the findings of the study, Nikita Vashisth, Editor and Data Journalist at Newschecker, said, “A majority of the claims that were debunked came from popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Sharechat, among others. It was also found that a small number of them came directly from news channels/ websites that perpetrated misinformation.
Citing this growing demand of information around Covid-19 vaccines, the United Nations has collaborated with The Vaccine Confidence Project at the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to undertake Team Halo, an initiative which aims to counter the misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines.  Team Halo amplifies the voices of the scientists across the globe as they plunge into the world of social media to answer the questions being raised on vaccine development. This group of 100+ scientists has over 22 scientists from India.

Melissa Fleming, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications said “Rampant misinformation has undermined public trust in vaccines. Team Halo is about reclaiming that trust. These are incredible people doing exciting science as part of a global collaboration. We should be celebrating them for helping us get to the end of this awful pandemic.”

Misinformation is damaging the world. It hijacks people’s emotions, taps into their weaknesses, tricking them into contributing to a chain of events that can have serious consequences on people. COVID-19 misinformation undermines the collective ability to control the pandemic and keep people safe.
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