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Misinformation During Covid-19 Pandemic

Sajedul Islam Khan

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21st-Aug-2020       
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Right now, most countries are fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic where Bangladesh is no exception. Each virus outbreak in a new country generates a new psychological panic and demand for reliable information regarding the infections. As a result, social networking sites play either an essential way of public health information or a good ground for dangerous mental health risks. According to WHO Director-General "We're not just fighting an epidemic; we're fighting an infodemic." Also the secretary-general of the United Nations reveals that "Our common enemy is Covid-19, but our enemy is also an "infodemic" of misinformation". This is the best time of utilizing social networking sites and focusing on the role of journalists, internet users in order to provide valid health information tackling the Covid-19 pandemic from Bangladesh.
On 13 August 2020, BBC news on misinformation in social networking siteshas created usmentally stress and anxiety. They mention that misinformation in social media has killed 800 people around the world. One study estimated that almost 5,800 people were admitted to hospital due to fake information in social networking sites particularly reason for taking unhealthy medicine. Many researchers state that misinformation creates rumor and mental stress to doctors and victims which can be the main cause for the expansion of Covid-19 infection among others. However, other studies conclude that during this pandemic, many social networking sites have produced an opportunity for the business of hackers or scammers to take benefits by selling products such as masks, sanitizers, fake medicine, etc.
However, the earlier world faced three other pandemics namely swine flu pandemic, the Ebola epidemic, and the Zika outbreak last decades. Each of pandemic, social networking sites had a good influence by providing well documentation and information. Now in Bangladesh, social media have made great progress in functionality and communication online. Even, WHO and other public health organizations also use social media/sites to inform the public about the outbreak and control the mental panic.
Recently, many health-care organizations and public health professionals enormously used social networking sites for health guidance and an outbreak's prevention. We have seen the last outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa how false social networks influence the actions of people. Misinformation using social networking sites createsalso a major threat to health care professionals (HCPs), students, and health-care institutions. As social networking sites carry information about the personality, beliefs, and interests of an individual; it also creates the initial impression which persists in the mind of people. Perceptions may be based on some of the details in a social media profile, such as photos, nicknames, links, and statements, posts, and comments that a person likes or shares, as well as friends, charities, organizations, games, and media that a person follows. Mental health issues are now in serious situation because of easy access to social networking sites and increasing number of internet users in Bangladesh.
According to the BTRC report 2020, the total numbers of internet readers are now 101.186 million in Bangladesh. Interestingly, most online users publish disinformation and rumoursthrough numerous sources such as Facebook, YouTube, etc. Most of the health related information brings noreference and little valid information. Lack of online information verification in social networking sites creates a new ways of mental pressure and infectious diseases among doctors and patients. For example, many people drink cow urine or eat dung to mitigate the coronavirus because of misinformation in social networking sites in India which generate another public health issues and mental stress.  
In Bangladesh, we have seen that the impact of rumour and misinformation in social networking sites raises concern after the first death due to Covid-19 in Bangladesh on March 18, 2020. Due to spreading rumours through Facebook, one doctor was arrested in Chittagong. Moreover, because of misinformation, many people were taking the juice of thankuni leaves, of a local tree, and some were drinking tea with ginger or garlic to reduce coronavirus. Some medicine mentioned as the antidote for the coronavirus and their prices increased and some were out of stock because of rumours. All these phenomena reproduce mental health illness and anxiety among marginalised communities in Bangladesh. Still, many people believe that the coronavirus is a disease for the rich where the poor have low risks and few infections due to reading some fake status on the Facebook page.
Consequently, first-hand valid information about the outbreak and consequences of infections has become popular in manyonline sites or blogs. Only validonline sites can create a space for people to tell their stories and document their daily lives of this deadly virus. Unfortunately, few online policies are implemented to ensure valid information and few people are following the rules and regulations.On the other hand, lack of accuracy and reliability of information are now the major drawback of health information and risks prevention. Medical or health-related information posted on social media sites is often anonymous. Moreover, we see most health information is incomplete, informal, and sometimes without references. Many users post false description videos on YouTube and Facebook just for getting views and followers. International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) regional director for Asia-Pacific Vasu Mohan suggested on 18 May 2020 "Promoting Social Cohesion and Inclusion on Social Media" and addressed the "infodemic"- a "tsunami of information". He told that it was difficult to differentiate good information from misinformation, rumours, and fake news. He also focused on the role of youth generation and civil society in stopping disinformation and hate speech.
On the other hand, people need proper access to timely information about the disease symptoms and its prevention during this pandemic situation. Verified online pages and valid social networking sites can be the only effective platform for searching, sharing, and distributing particular health issues among the general population. Recently, rumours or unreliable newsregeneratesmisunderstanding and mental disorder in the community, which can make the situation worse. And this misinformation creates confusion, and spreads fear, hampering the outbreak response.  
In conclusion, a high amount of misinformation will create Covid-19 pandemic, mental health risks and threaten public health safety, which again exaggerate crisis management. This is the high time to our governmental public health authorities should apply internet and social networking sites to assess, protect, and promote health services of coronavirus victims through healthy information. It's a significant time for journalists, bloggers, and media to publish valid information about health issues during Covid-19 situation to reduce mental stress of general people. The government can ensure a policy for media literacy education at the school level and also enlarge Digital Security Act 2018' to tackle misinformation and rumour in social networking sites. Finally, social awareness campaigns among youth and students can play an essential role in mitigating rumour and misinformation during this Covid-19 pandemic situation.

(Sajedul Islam Khan, PhD Student, School of Social Work, Massey University, New Zealand. Email: sajedulsoc@gmail.com)

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