As most parts of the world are currently experiencing the 3rd or 4th wave of COVID-19, the fight against the virus has intensified. The mutating virus has created a ruckus in the world and has no intention of stopping. Despite all odds, our scientists have worked relentlessly to develop vaccines that can shield us against this dreaded virus. However, due to misinformation clouding the internet, we have seen a considerable rise in anti-vaxxers who believe it is unsafe and propagate false news.
WHO has coined a term for the situation we are currently experiencing: ‘infodemic’ — an abundance of information along with the rapid spread of fabricated or misleading news, videos and images. Like the virus, it is growing exponentially and is highly contagious and complicates COVID-19 pandemic response efforts.
“Infodemics have already happened in one way or another in past epidemics, but what’s happening right now is something of a global scale, where people are connected through different means and share information more quickly,” Tim Nguyen, Head of Information Network for Epidemics said. “This has created a new situation where we are rethinking and reshaping our approach to managing infodemics in emergencies.”
How social media sites are tackling the issue
Twitter set up new guidelines to deal with this ongoing crisis in March 2021. Users who would repeatedly spread and share false information about COVID-19 vaccines would have their accounts suspended or shut down for a while.
The battle is also being fought in computer science and sociology labs across the United States. Scientists have been called in who tracked the spread of false information on social media honed their skills last year during the Us Presidential elections. They have not shifted their focus on false claims made with regards to the COVID-19 vaccines. Statistics reveal that more than one-fifth of people in the United States are opposed to receiving a vaccine.
While Google is fiercely tackling the issue in India and is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) to increase the science-based narrative of the vaccination drive in the country, Google said it has been working closely with the Rapid Risk Response team at the MoFHW that is tracking misinformation using social media tools across regions and languages.
In its blog post, Google detailed the Knowledge Panels that appear in the Google Search for queries related to the COVID vaccine. These panels provide consolidated information such as details on the two vaccines, effectiveness, safety, distribution, side effects, and more.
On YouTube, Google has launched information panels that show up when COVID-related queries are searched for and has a banner on the YouTube homepage, both of which redirect to essential vaccine resources on the MoHFW website.
What can we do?
As false information about the vaccines keeps brewing, we can do our part to raise awareness that such claims exist and encourage everyone to be cautious in evaluating allegations against the vaccine.
Some sources are simply unreliable. For example, anti-vaccine organizations have an agenda to spread misinformation. Be cautious while reading information from such sites and always fact check if the information is accurate.
Be careful when reading anonymous messages on social media sites with unverified claims. Recently, in a viral video, a nurse named Khalilah Mitchell based in Tennessee claimed that after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, she was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. But after checking through the database, it was revealed that there is no such nurse anywhere in the United States.
In conclusion, as Anthony Fauci, American Physician-Scientist and Immunologist, said, “It’s almost paradoxical that they don’t want to get vaccinated. So that’s the thing that we’ve got to work on. We can’t be pejorative to them. We’ve got to try and convince them why it’s so important to get to where they want to be and where I want to be and where all public health officials want to be, would be to get vaccinated.” He concluded that the only way out of the pandemic is by getting everyone vaccinated.