How to fight fake Covid news on social media


(Photo REUTERS/Dado Ruvic).
(Photo REUTERS/Dado Ruvic).

By Rupa Popat



SINCE the start of the pandemic, there has been no end to the fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories related to coronavirus circulating on social media platforms.

From unverified home remedies to false news on active cases and deaths, these on­line rumours have cre­ated chaos across India. One video, viewed 4.7 million times on You­Tube, claimed that cor­onavirus came from seafood while a Face­book post claiming to be from Unicef told readers to avoid ice-cream and cold food. In the second quarter of this year, Facebook re­moved seven million fake news posts related to coronavirus alone.

Since April, about 400 scientists have formed an Indian Scien­tists’ Response group to Covid-19. Their work has included debunking false information about the virus. It can be viewed on https://ind­scicov.in/for-public/busting-hoaxes/) in multiple languages.



Misinformation and fake news are only part of the issue. The pan­demic has also given rise to hate campaigns against individuals and groups on social media. Well-known spiritual figure Pujya Morari Ba­pu was among those targeted recently, with a minimum of 500 mes­sages a day being post­ed by paid trolls, often promoting violence against him.

With more than 100 billion messages being sent on Facebook’s ser­vices each day, the plat­form took action against 9.6 million piec­es of hate content in the first quarter of 2020, up from 5.7 million in the previous quarter.

Social media app Tik­Tok said in July that it removed more than 49 million videos for vio­lating its guidelines, as they fell under catego­ries such as “violent and graphic content and hate speech.” About one-third of these vide­os originated from India.



Platforms like Face­book, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok rely on a combination of artificial intelligence, user re­porting and content moderators to enforce their rules regarding ap­propriate content. They use internal teams working on safety and security as well as inde­pendent third-party fact checkers to regularly re­move content that isn’t aligned with their poli­cies. There are also thousands of online volunteers globally fighting hate speech on Facebook. Known fact-checking companies in India include Boom, Alt News, Factly, Metafact and WebQoof.

The solution for managing fake news and hate speech re­quires collaboration be­tween government, aca­demia, publishers, so­cial media platforms and civil-rights groups. In the meantime, we must all contribute to tackling the issue.

  • Be skeptical of head­lines. False news stories often have catchy head­lines in all caps with ex­clamation points. If claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
  • Look closely at the link. A phony or look-alike link may be a sign of false news. Many messages or website links containing hoaxes or fake news have spell­ing mistakes.
  • Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If it comes from an unfamiliar or­ganisation, check their “About” section to learn more. If you’re still not sure, search online for facts and check trusted news sites to see where the story came from.
  • Check photographs and media carefully. False news stories often contain manipulated images, audio record­ings or videos. Some­times the photo may be authentic, but could be taken out of context. Look at trusted news sources to see if the sto­ry is reported elsewhere – if it is featured in mul­tiple places, it’s more likely to be true.
  • Inspect the dates. Fake stories may con­tain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
  • Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
  • Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the story, it may indicate it is false.
  • Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humour or satire. Check wheth­er the source is known for parody, and if the story’s tone suggests it may be just for fun.
  • Some stories are in­tentionally false. Think critically about the sto­ries you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.
  • On Whatsapp, when a message is forwarded more than five times, it is indicated with a dou­ble arrow icon. If you’re not sure who wrote the original message, dou­ble check the facts.
  • Check your biases. Watch out for informa­tion that confirms your pre-existing beliefs and review the facts before sharing information.
  • Fake news often goes viral. Even if a message is shared many times, it doesn’t make it true. Don’t forward a mes­sage because the sender is urging you to do so. If you see something that’s fake, tell the per­son who sent it to you. If a group or a contact is constantly sending fake news on any platform including WhatsApp, you can report them.

    Rupa Popat is an en­trepreneur, investor and board advisor in the UK.