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Infodemic amidst Pandemic: An Introduction to Fake News

"Coronavirus pandemic has made us suffer, and its infodemic has made things worse. But studying the infodemic can make us more aware of fake news that will never stop flooding us."

Introduction
At the end of March 2020, a message titled ‘excellent summary’ of coronavirus information which is claimed to be from the US-based Johns Hopkins University was widely shared via email and on social media. It contains 20 bullet points. Two of them state "The virus is not a living organism, but a protein molecule …." “The virus is very vulnerable. …”
About a month ago, a video was shared thousands of times on Facebook, in which a woman claims that onions and garlic "kill virus” and protect those who take it. She suggests the viewers eat them as many as possible, and at any time and any day.
In early April 2020, a post linking COVID 19 outbreak to 5G, the newest, fastest type of cellular network, spread on social media. It claims that when the first cases of coronavirus were detected in Wuhan, China, 5G technology was just rolled out. Thus, 5G mobile networks, through the millimeter-wave spectrum it uses, spreads and worsens COVID 19. The post, later popularly called “5G conspiracy theory,” actually floated for the first time in January 2020. But it spread quickly last month because some celebrities with million followers on Twitter also shared it.
These three incidents are just some examples of numerous fake news or hoax that had been spreading quickly on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media amidst the current coronavirus pandemic. Being anxious and panicked facing the rapid outbreak of coronavirus, people often become uncritical to receive the flood of the procedure, tips, and "miracle" foods to prevent and treat COVID 19. It is worsened by the fact that many people have low health literacy which is vital to curb the virus spread and to mitigate its impacts. Even in Europe, only 12% of the population had insufficient health literacy, and almost (47% had limited (insufficient or problematic) health literacy.

This article discusses the nature of fake news, what for it is created, why are we susceptible to it, its’ effects, and how to combat it.

What is Fake news?
Fake news or hoax, according to Lazer, et al, is “fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent.” This definition emphasizes that fake news is an invention, a lie created out of nothing that takes the appearance of real news. So, the information is false, but it seems true. In a bit more general scope, Webwise defines it as “news, stories, or hoaxes created to intentionally misinform or deceive readers." Fake news outlets lack the news media's editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of the information. Therefore, it could be partially true but exaggerated or not fully fact-checked before publication. Fake news overlaps with other information disorders, such as misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is purposely spread to deceive people).

Fake news is not new for false information and mistruths circulation have been as old as human history. The news was traditionally obtained from trusted sources, journalists, and media outlets requiring to follow strict codes of practice. However, the internet and social media have provided news a new way to publish, distribute, and consume with very little editorial standards. News is also distributed in a new high-speed mechanism.

What is fake news created for? 
Fake news could be created just for fun, but is usually created to achieve either of these two intentions. First, it is created to mislead for damaging an agency, entity, or person. Second, it is created to influence people's views by underscoring a certain political agenda or by driving lots of visitors to a website to make profits in online publishing.

The video claiming that onions and garlic can cure COVID 19 above is a hoax because no scientific evidence supports it. WHO states that although onions and garlic are healthy foods that "may have some antimicrobial properties", there's no evidence that eating them can safeguard people from COVID 19. Thus it can deceive people. This video was created to drive lots of visitors to the video account.

Another video shared by Boyet Castelo on April 19, 2020, is another example of manipulated content aimed to gain lots of visitors. In the video, Castelo claims how he cured himself of COVID-19 after drinking a glass of water with a teaspoon of salt. The video soon had over 2.4 million views, 137,000 shares, 60,000 reactions, and 17,000 comments. It was reposted by at least 7 Facebook accounts and pages since April 20.

Just like the two videos above, the ‘excellent summary’ is false information because Johns Hopkins University above it has no connection to it. It can inform its readers concerning COVID 19, and the school says it has no connection to it. The 5G conspiracy theory also has no scientific basis. The electromagnetic waves used by 5G are similar to those already used by mobile phones. “Electromagnetic waves are one thing, viruses are another, and you can't get a virus off a phone mast," Simon Clarke of the University of Reading.

The 5G conspiracy theory is a piece of fake news employed to damage the 5G Corporation. The conspiracy has no scientific basis. The electromagnetic waves used by 5G are similar to those already used by mobile phones. “Electromagnetic waves are one thing, viruses are another, and you can't get a virus off a phone mast," Simon Clarke of the University of Reading.

President Trump is now making ever louder pronouncements casting blame on China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Trump’s administration has never shown the evidence, the accusation is considered political fake news. According to many observers, this is done to avoid domestic criticism of Trump's response, degrade China's global reputation, and increase the US’s bargaining position in trade and other aspects of the US-China competition. 

Effect of Fake News
In the context of a pandemic, the spread of false information can be detrimental because it makes it hard for people to find reliable resources to obtain clear info. Europol states that although the spread of fake news about COVID-19 is not always a criminal offense, it has very serious consequences, endangering public health and directly affecting people's lives. It endangers people by (1) promoting fake products and services (e.g. fake COVID-19 tests and vaccines), (2) promoting a false sense of security (e.g. misleading information about treatments), and (3) promoting suspicion of the official guidelines and sources.

The video claiming the effectiveness of onions and garlic is an example of fake news promoting fake products and services. A woman from Tiantai county, being told that raw garlic could help, for instance, was hospitalized for a severely inflamed throat after consuming 1.5kg of raw garlic. Whether videos claiming garlic’s effectiveness to boost your immunity is directly related to garlic traders or not, fears over the new coronavirus COVID-19 have pushed up sales of garlic by 20%.

In another case, a woman in Hefei, after reading on the Internet that alcohol disinfects coronavirus, sprayed much rubbing alcohol on her clothes. But when she went to the kitchen to check on the food she was cooking, an explosion occurred and left her with serious burns on her face and hands. Also, a 35-year-old man, after reading on the Internet that alcohol prevents coronavirus, bought a bottle of 91% rubbing alcohol and started drinking it. He immediately collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room.

Fake news which promotes a false sense of security cane represented by the ‘excellent summary’. It has led many people to believe that coronavirus is not dangerous. Consequently, in some countries, it has been noticeably harder to convince people of the importance of stay at home or wear a mask to “flatten the curve.” The video claiming that garlic, onions, and lemon could all cure the virus can also lead people to believe that coronavirus is not dangerous. The man in the video claims: “This just came in today. Simple solution. No vaccine, just good old mother nature. Advice from China that has overcome the virus.”

The 5G conspiracy is an example of fake news promoting suspicion of the official guidelines and sources. It has been officially confirmed that the electromagnetic waves do not transmit coronavirus, but many people still believe in the conspiracy and have caused chaos. For instance, twenty 5G cellular towers in the United Kingdom were attacked and some were set into fire. The conspiracy has also led to the abuse of 5G employees.

Since fake news is shared through the internet (accessed by more than 4.5 billion people) and social media (used by 3.7 billion people), they spread even more quickly and massively than the pandemic. Therefore, the information can be more dangerous than coronavirus pandemic so that WHO calls them “infodemic”.

People’s Susceptibility to Fake News
People is susceptible to fake news due to seven reasons which are worsened by the sometimes unclear messages from officials and leaders. First, fake news often looks like real news so that it is hard for us to detect fake information. Second, fake news is shared through the internet and social media on which we are deluged with so much information. Consequently, we give things very little scrutiny. Third, in times of fears causing by pandemic, natural disaster, terrors, etc. we find it hard to think critically so that misinformation increases. Fourth, modern psychology claims that in times of uncertainty like coronavirus pandemic, to compensate for lack of control, people seek safety, security, and order. Thus, fake news that seems potential to restore safety and security tends to spread quickly. This is strengthened by the fifth reason, i.e. our propensity to accept information from friends and family without scrutiny. That is why fake news offering remedies through garlic, alcohol, hot water, etc. is widely spread. Sixth, human has a tendency to share negative over positive news. It roots in our predisposition "towards focusing on negative information because the potential costs of negative information far outweigh the potential benefits of positive information." Finally, human has a basic need for social affiliation. This may trigger suspicion and fear of others that are different from us. The emergence of the rumors that the vicious outbreak of coronavirus in Italy was driven by the migrants and refugees from the Middle East was due to this.

How to Combat Fake News?
Due to its detrimental nature, fake news should be reduced and, if possible, eliminated. To do this, Pursuit offers three strategies to do. First, the supply of false information must be cut. Governments and related institutions play a key role here, in providing detailed, clear, and transparent official information that crowds out fake news. To save face or avoid panic, Governments often elude to communicate this way. But accessible, reliable, and plentiful official information is factually critical to restricting the fake kind. Secondly, people’s access to view fake news where they could appear should be blocked by working with social media platforms. Facebook has an ongoing program that aims to address this, whether that’s successful or not remains to be seen. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all consumers of information need to practice vigilance. Ideally, this would mean fact-checking everything that hits our screen, using reputable fact-checking websites such as AFPSnopes, and the eight others listed in Berkeley Library

Importance of Critical Thinking
Employing technology like fact-checkers is essentially a momentary strategy. It can be effective only for a while because fake news is also spread through the same technology. Thus, as Farida Vis says, designing fact-checking systems to tackle fake news means that we show our hand informs similar technologies of what they can do to further subvert these processes.

Besides that, relying on and using fact-checkers can be quite complicated or take time. Most of today's people love convenience. They might find using these tools repetitively tedious. In this case, encouraging critical thinking skills that will enable every individual to access, analyze, and question any information is more effective. This is discussed in Fighting Fake News with Critical Thinking.

What specific fake news about COVID 19 have you ever detected, received, or shared? We'd like to hear from you. Please write your experiences or views in the comments section below.



Author : Parlindungan Pardede (parlin@weedutap.com)

Comments

  1. This article is very interesting for me. In this article I found out the sentence that said " The video claiming the effectiveness of onions and garlic is an example of fake news promoting fake products and services".
    During pandemic coronavirus, my aunt always advised me to consume onions as much 2 times a day, but I never do. Why?, because I don't like it. Besides that, I ever received a fake new in PGC from my class group. There is my friend share a video that showed it, " an ambulance brought a employment in PGC that suspected to be infected of the corona virus. The video that my friend shared is fake new or hoax. According to Jumono, the patient transported by ambulas was not infected with the corona virus. The patient was simply exhausted and had a history of asthma.
    To avoid hoax, we must be able critical thinking. Don't easily to believe the news that spreading in the middle of corona pandemic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This article is very interesting because I get a lot of information from this article.
    It is true, that during the corona virus pandemic a lot of people make fake news, so that makes people confused. I don't understand why they make fake news, whether it is for their own benefit or for certain groups. They also do not understand the impact of fake news can be detrimental to many people
    I am also one of the people exposed to fake news. My parents and my sister advised me to consume garlic to protect it from the corona virus. But I didn't because I don't like garlic. However, I took another way to take vitamins to maintain endurance.
    If we get a news from the internet or social media, we can't trust it immediately, it is better if we look for some references to strengthen the news.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It is a shame for those people who create hoaxes by using the worries during this pandemic to get advantages for their own sake. I also have seen these kinds of hoaxes like using wet tissue as a mask and the news that saying Christiano has changed his hotel to be a hospital to the patients that are infected by the corona virus. All these hoaxes will even make a greater worries than the advantage they got cause it can make a chaos to all people all around world. So as intellectuals, we have to take our part to reduce the spread of the hoaxes by checking the news credibility first before sharing it or at least not to share a news that its credibility is not guaranteed yet.

    ReplyDelete
  4. During this pandemic many people who make fake news in the form of photos, videos, etc. News is made as if the news is true / real so as to make people believe in the news. Indonesian people are very easy to believe in something unreal/hoax, so that when they hear bad news, they are immediately excited and panicked. We do not easily believe for things that have not been sure, finds out for the news first is true or not.
    During this pandemic corona virus, parents and even our brothers and sisters recommend us to consume garlic to prevent the virus from entering our bodies, while many children easily dislike it if eaten raw. To maintain health and avoid viruses, we just need to maintain our immunity and consume vitamins and regulate healthy lifestyles, so that we are free from any viruses.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This article is very interesting. So many people hit by fake news in social media, for example me the beginning of the existence of coronavirus in Indonesia my friend send me video that showed an ambulance brought a employment in PGC that suspected to be infected of the corona virus, so I share to my group class to tell them to be careful, then next day my friend tell me that the news was i send before is a fake news and I really shame because I shared the fake news. Since the day I don't want to share about news or others things, and from the accident I realize i'm a less reading and I will to be more careful with fake news. So guys be careful with fake news, read more to get know the information.

    ReplyDelete
  6. In my opinion, this article is very interesting. I completely agree with this article. Since the coronavirus has made people feel in an uproar and scared, many people also say that cooking spices or spices can overcome us from the coronavirus. There are some herbs that can deal with coronaviruses such as ginger, which is true. but the existence of this news makes someone preach that it is not true like consuming garlic can overcome the prevention of coronavirus, but the news is not true and fortunately, I do not believe and do not eat the onion. I just keep my diet, take vitamins, drink lots of water and exercise. Not only that there is news on several social media such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and others, saying that someone died due to coronavirus, but the reality is not like that. So in my opinion to read the news we must be careful and ensure that we are not exposed to the news as before. So that we are not exposed to deceptive news like that we have to read a lot of news.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This article is very interesting. Fake news has a big impact for many people who read articles. As in my experience, fake news has more impact on older age like my grandmother. When he read the fake news about "the solution to kill the Covid-19 virus with onion", he easily believed the false information, then he shared it on all of his social media. This will be a stupid trigger for someone who reads the fake news, while the information is fake. From my experience, I just want to invite you as a young generation to make ourselves and our parents or people who are older than us to make them aware of false news. So they can filter out what is fake and real news and they don't believe it quickly enough before they know the truth.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yeah, it's true. When Covid-19 appeared in the world, we were not only worried by this pandemic, but also with the appearance of fake news or hoaxes. Thus, this not only made the community fight against Covid-19, but also struggled to prevent the spread of hoaxes. Some people try to make a sensation by saying that this is the end of time. Yes, indeed people may assume, but we need to examine what information we distribute and what information we get. Another example is, the circulation of information at that time the Mall in Jakarta opened on June 5, even though the government said it was not possible because it was still the PSBB period, and there were still other hoaxes.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is a good article for many people to read so it's not easy to respond to the hoax news. this has also happened to me a few months ago. I got the news that a vaccine had been found for people infected with Covid-19. The news seems as like as real. Without thinking I immediately spread the news to my friends on Whatsapp. This makes me even more curious, then I read an article, where Professor Jonathan, who was reported by Kompas.com, said that the vaccine was tested by dripping on stars and not on humans so that humans could simultaneously speed up the process of finding vaccines, even though full controversy.
    Then I immediately deleted the news and did not spread it again. Therefore, this article really helped me in responding to false news not to quickly believe the news without real evidence. In considering fake news, it would be better if we read an article related to the news first.

    ReplyDelete


  11. One step to prevent or counteract the news of the deception and issues of radicalism is by using critical thinking, namely the method of thinking in a skeptical, analytical, and practical way. Especially during this pandemic, many people made hoax news about COVID 19.

    ReplyDelete

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