In this age of information and technology, misinformation and rumours are always lurking within social media and messaging apps, shared and multiplied effortlessly with one click. Now, with over a third of the world’s population being stuck at home under lockdown, people are turning towards social media as an outlet of communication and escape even more than before. And the more time people spend online, the more misinformation they will encounter.
Although countries and people everywhere are struggling to overcome and correct misinformation regarding the Coronavirus pandemic, the South Asian community is especially susceptible to misleading health information. The combination of overall lax hygiene practices, high population densities, and lack of digital literacy amongst people on the internet in South Asia cultivates the perfect conditions for inaccurate information to spread.
Cosmic level sound waves causing the virus to retreat, new vaccines already being distributed, the virus being unable to survive in cold temperatures, and scapegoating certain ethnicities or religions as bringing in the virus, are just some of the rumours circulating online. Cultural herbal and homeopathic remedies like ginseng and tea that (at the most) may relieve symptoms being touted as “cures” for the virus, are other falsehoods being shared online.
Because communication and connection amongst the extended family are trademarks of South Asian communities, many large families rely on messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber and social media like Facebook to keep in touch with loved ones. These platforms are precisely where inaccurate information gets circulated. Studies show that the elderly are more susceptible to believing wrong information encountered online so in order to combat the spread of misinformation, every single person within every family group chat needs to do their part in replacing rumours with scientific facts. This responsibility of listening, correcting, and educating those around them largely falls upon the shoulders of young people, who typically are more easily able to discern accurate versus inaccurate statements online.
One way in which young people can become actively involved in this endeavor is through a new initiative called Hello South Asians. The mission of Hello South Asians is to “address misinformation, reduce panic, and provide free, accessible, and accurate content for South Asians everywhere”. With a team composed of students, doctors, policy analysts, and journalists all across the world they have already translated and released infographics available to be shared in 20+ South Asian languages and are looking for more students who can translate or join as ambassadors on their team. You can learn more about this initiative at https://hellosouthasians.com or on their instagram @hellosouthasians.
No one knows for certain when or if the world will ever return to normal, it's clear that until we do, the devastation caused by the virus can be mitigated by minimizing unnecessary harms caused by misinformation. The most powerful defense we have against the virus is science, and in order to make our defense the strongest, we must stop the misinformation and rumours that threaten it.
Post written by guest writer Priyanka Shrestha