Infodemic ,the other Pandemic

The author of this blog is Rakesh Kumar, I st year, B.A. LL.B(Hons.) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.

“We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an Infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and is just as dangerous.”

-World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

As people around the globe are struggling with the impacts of coronavirus i.e. Covid-19 Pandemic, we are facing a parallel problem of Infodemic. As the coronavirus spreads so does an infodemic of misinformation. The term Infodemic is made up of two words Information and Epidemic. The term Infodemic was used by the World Health Organisation in February, 2020 to refer (mostly false) information about the Covid-19 outbreak. The term refers to the dynamics of our modern information space, where it is very hard to distinguish between a piece of Real news and a piece of False news. We find various traces of Pandemics have occurred in history since human existence. But the world had positively responded to it and had been successful in eliminating the deep roots of the Pandemic. With the passage of time, the virus of misinformation evolved and became stronger and still, it is deepening its root in the earth. We have not been able to counter its spread. Rumors and false conspiracies are not new to Covid-19. Researches tell us that every pandemic has accompanied some rumors with it. Tamotsu Shibutani, the Japanese American sociologist posits rumormongering as the common work of people intelligently seeking information under ambiguous circumstances. Rumour in the generous sociological tradition, results from a group effort to understand unexplained events.[1] Researchers across the world are attempting to understand the viral power of fake news, collecting data, and building models that could suggest a model for countering its spread.

What is Fake News or Rumour?
Fake News is the news, stories, or hoaxes created deliberately to misinform or deceive the people. Rumour is a form of improvised news, according to Professor Shibutani, derived from ambiguous situations inadequately clarified by the formal news media.[2] As the Covid-19 epidemics sweep across the world it's been accompanied by a Tsunami of misinformation. Where reliable information is vital for public health fake news about Covid-19 could prove very dangerous as said by WHO.

How Fake News Spreads?
Researchers across the globe are working to understand how misinformation spreads and are suggesting new models fight against the fake news spread. While fake news is nothing new, with the rise of the internet it is easier than ever before to spread false information on a digital platform. Fake news in today’s time generally evolves from these digital platforms and spread like fire in the forest.

The Reuters Institute of Oxford University had collected some samples of fake news picked up by the International fact- checkers. The team analyzed the content origin and reach of  225 pieces of fake news and it was found that 60% of the content involved recontextualizing, reframing of a true fact which were no longer true. Another study was done at the University of East Anglia by Paul Hunter, he has been studying the damage caused by misinformation since 2015, when he saw the impact of fake news on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. There were reports that this (Ebola) was a delivery attack by the government against dissenters and there were some health workers being murdered and indeed subsequent research showed that people who believed these lies were less likely to do things to protect their lives.

How Tech Platforms Have Responded?
When so much information comes from anywhere means from unauthentic sources. It’s easy to get duped. Being duped by fake news has devastating effects on society and democracy. Fake news can cause social unrest in society. A most common form of a social issue today we are facing is mob lynching. This process starts with the spread of fake news and step by step it leads to the death of the innocent person. 

Before the Internet we had a limited form of information sources like radio, television, newspaper, etc. so the information that reached people was very limited but it was authentic and reliable. But in today's world spreading fake news is very easy.  People use different sites and social platforms to spread these fake news and the people get tricked with it because they look very similar to any other authentic news story.

For social media companies, the Infodemic poses an acute challenge. These companies need to prevent the deliberate spread of known disinformation. Since these companies provide a lot of services to customers. So it becomes their responsibility to take every possible step to curb the information which is not good for society. However, the good news is that these major platforms are at least taking the cause seriously and are taking quick and appropriate action towards the concerning cause. These platforms have implemented stricter policies for their platforms and have taken stronger actions to stop misinformation (related to COVID-19).

 Most notably:
·         Social Giant Facebook has taken of various actions including banning ads that attempt to exploit the crisis (for example by using misinformation to sell medical products) adding banners directing users to authoritative information about COVID-19, using external fact checks to add labels to misinformation about the coronavirus.[3]
·     WhatsApp which has more than 2 billion users (only 40 crores in India) worldwide, tightened message forwarding limits that restricted users to share forward the content one chat at a time after there was a jump of messages giving bogus medical advice to the people around the world since the start of Coronavirus crisis. WhatsApp in its blog post stated that there was a 25% decrease in such messages after implementing this, so yes definitely the impact has been there.[4]Many other platforms have made specific changes to their platforms and generally each and every platform has issued some guidelines and policies needed to be followed by the user. A chatbot has been launched by the International Fast -Checking Network (ICFN), the umbrella organization of professional fast- check groups worldwide, to quell rumors and conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19. The only thing people have to do is to send Hi on (Whatsapp) +1(727)2912606.[5] And this chatbot will help you to give authentic and appropriate answers by going deep inside its record regarding the concerned issues. ICFN has collaborated with 88 organizations, so far it has successfully debunked 4,800 hoaxes in 43 languages and in 74 countries. The chatbot makes this information easily accessible to people around the world. Thus, ICFN service is one of the many methods by which the world is trying to fight Infodemic.

Infodemic In Times Of A Pandemic And The Laws Made To Combat:
This is a critical time where the whole world is wrestling with a coronavirus, the authorities around the globe are facing an avalanche of false news on the digital platforms. The law enforcement agencies have the power to make laws against anyone who tries to spread rumors. At present India does not have any existing laws related to it but we still have some existing legal provisions under Indian Penal Code, 1860 some existing legal provisions are –

·         Section 505(1) of Indian Penal Code, 1860
The punishment for making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumor or report which may cause fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public.

Punishment: Imprisonment which may extend to 3 years or fine or both.[6]

·         Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005: Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic.

Punishment: Imprisonment which may extend to one year or with a fine.[7]

·         Section 66D of Information Technology Act: Whoever, by means for any communication device or computer resource cheats by personating.

Punishment: Imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.[8]

Studies show that 75% of people who see the fake news think it's Real.  However, this situation can be avoided by spreading awareness. If you find anything that makes your head scratch then it's time to start doing some sleuthing. There are some sites that can help in checking these facts like,,,,, etc. It can be easy to be tricked by the tsunami of news but if you’re smart and ask questions at the right time at the right place then only you will be able to stop the tornado of fake news. For the time, what people can do is that whatever the information they receive and if they have 0.1% doubt then don't share, like, send, fake news to anyone as this may lead to Infodemics.