Misinformation rises amid COVID-19 calamity in India – fr

Misinformation rises amid COVID-19 calamity in India – fr

NEW DELHI – Man in WhatsApp video says he saw it work himself: A few drops of lemon juice in the nose cures COVID-19.

“If you practice what I am going to say in faith, you will be freed from the crown in five seconds,” said the man, dressed in traditional religious clothing. “This lemon will protect you from the virus like a vaccine. “

False remedies. Terrifying stories about the side effects of vaccines. Baseless claims that Muslims are spreading the virus. Fueled by angst, desperation and mistrust of the government, rumors and hoaxes spread by word of mouth and on social media in India, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis.

“Widespread panic has led to a plethora of disinformation,” said Rahul Namboori, co-founder of Fact Crescendo, an independent fact-checking organization in India.

While treatments like lemon juice may seem harmless, claims like these can have fatal consequences if they cause people to not get the vaccine or ignore other guidelines.

In January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India had “saved mankind from a great disaster by effectively restraining the crown”. Life started to pick up, as did participation in cricket matches, religious pilgrimages and political rallies for Modi’s Hindu Nationalist Party.

Four months later, cases and deaths have skyrocketed, the rollout of vaccines in the country has faltered, and public anger and mistrust has increased.

“All of the propaganda, disinformation and conspiracy theories that I have seen in recent weeks have been very, very political,” said Sumitra Badrinathan, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies disinformation in India. “Some people use it to criticize the government, while others use it to support it. “

Distrust of Western vaccines and healthcare is also the source of misinformation about fake treatments as well as claims about traditional remedies.

Satyanarayan Prasad saw the lemon juice video and believed it. The 51-year-old Uttar Pradesh state resident is wary of modern medicine and has a theory as to why his country’s health experts are asking for vaccines.

“If the government approves the lemon drops as a remedy, the… rupees they spent on vaccines will be wasted,” Prasad said.

Vijay Sankeshwar, a prominent businessman and former politician, repeated the claim regarding lemon juice, saying that two drops in the nostrils would increase oxygen levels in the body.

Although vitamin C is essential for human health and immunity, there is no evidence that consuming lemons will fight the coronavirus.

The claim also extends to the Indian diaspora.

“They have this thing that if you drink lemon water every day you’re not going to be affected by the virus,” said Emma Sachdev, a resident of Clinton, New Jersey, whose extended family lives. in India.

Sachdev said several relatives have been infected, but continue to flout social distancing rules, believing that a visit to the temple will protect them.

India has also experienced the same types of misinformation about vaccines and vaccine side effects as the world.

Popular Tamil actor Vivek passed away two days after receiving his COVID-19 vaccination last month. The hospital where he died said Vivek had advanced heart disease, but his death was taken by opponents of the vaccine as evidence the government was hiding side effects.

Much of the misinformation is circulating on WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India. Unlike more open sites like Facebook or Twitter, WhatsApp – which is owned by Facebook – is an encrypted platform that allows users to exchange messages privately.

Bad news online “can come from an unsuspecting neighbor who isn’t trying to harm,” said Badrinathan, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “New Internet users may not even realize that the information is false. The whole concept of disinformation is new to them. “

The hoaxes spread online had fatal results in 2018, when at least 20 people were killed by mobs ignited by messages about alleged child kidnapper gangs.

WhatsApp said in a statement that it works to limit misleading or dangerous content by working with public health bodies such as the World Health Organization and fact-checking organizations. The platform also added safeguards limiting the distribution of chain messages and directing users to accurate online information.

The service also makes it easier for users in India and other countries to use its service to find information on vaccinations.

“False statements can discourage people from getting vaccinated, seeking medical help or taking the virus seriously,” said Namboori of Fact Crescendo. “The stakes have never been higher. “


Klepper reported from Providence, RI Associated Press writer Mallika Sen contributed to this report from Los Angeles.


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