As India progresses towards universal vaccination, the progress is being hindered due to the circulation of fake news. Misinformation is spreading like wildfire – from the claims of people dying due to vaccination to 5G testing causing the spread of Coronavirus second wave – especially in the rural areas of the country.
The misinformation leads to not only people becoming skeptical about the emerging technologies like 5G but also vaccine skepticism, which India cannot afford this time given the destruction caused due to the second wave of the Coronavirus.
Several departments of the government are busting the misinformation that is spreading on social media like a wildfire but the government departments have very little reach as compared to these platforms.
“There is no link between 5G technology and spread of COVID-19 and they are urged not to be misguided by the false information and rumours spread in this matter,” the department of telecom said.
“DoT has a well-structured process so that TSPs strictly adhere to these prescribed norms. However, any citizen having any apprehension about any mobile tower emitting radio waves beyond the safe limit prescribed by the department, a request for EMF measurements or testing can be made on the Tarang Sanchar portal at tarangsanchar.gov.in/emfportal,” it added.
However, the department of telecom’s message reached very few people as compared to 5G testing spread theory that has found space in every family WhatsApp group.
Therefore, the government needs a multi-pronged approach to deal with the misinformation crisis that is weakening the fight against Covid. First, a dedicated body like PIB Fact check is needed, that focuses on busting the fake news about Coronavirus. Even more important is the increasing penetration of the messages of this body on WhatsApp – which has become the biggest medium for spreading misinformation. Unless the message about the safety of vaccination reaches to family WhatsApp groups, the government cannot deal with vaccine hesitancy.
The state governments also need to deploy their publicity and public information divisions for the task of busting myths around vaccination and spread of the Coronavirus. Especially the states that are primarily rural like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan need to dedicate a separate department to curb the misinformation about the Covid.
The second strategy should be words from the Prime Minister on this in Mann ki Baat or any other public address. Prime Minister Modi needs to come on national television and inform the public about the safety of the vaccination and bust some big myths like ‘death due to vaccination’ and ‘spread of second wave due to 5G testing’ around Covid.
Popular Chief Ministers like Yogi Adityanath, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Amarinder Singh, Mamata Banerjee also need to talk about the misinformation about the vaccination and spread of the pandemic.
The vaccination drive has already slowed, especially among the 45 plus age group that is more vulnerable. Lack of the enough number of vaccines is also a reason behind this but vaccine hesitancy is also responsible for the slowdown in the vaccination process.
The popular and influential leaders who have a sway on public opinion must address the skepticism around the vaccines because at this critical stage of the fight against Coronavirus, a large number of people cannot be left vaccinated due to ‘misinformation’.