* “Are newborn calves being slaughtered in order to produce Covaxin vaccine?”
* “Please get your car refuelled. From tomorrow, the pumps have been instructed by police to give fuel only to those cars who have the red, green or yellow stickers.”
* “4,000 MBBS students and 3,000 resident doctors have announced a strike against Maharashtra government for various issues.”
Social media, which connects and catalyses change, can also be a minefield of fake news and falsehoods. The messages listed above are but an example of the steady, constant stream of misinformation spreading through platforms and networks that link families, friends and associates. The undercurrent of anxiety and panic is palpable.
As changing dynamics pit media against emerging forms of communication, TOI has tried to meet the challenge by putting even greater emphasis on news verification. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we do have rigorous systems in place to check information before we publish it. In case an error still slips through, we acknowledge it and are quick to set the record straight.
In keeping with the same spirit, Times Verified seeks to provide clarity and accuracy on vital issues through a collaborative effort with readers. We see this as a service that we wish to provide to our readers with a sense of utmost humility and responsibility. We will not declare that something is true or fake unless we are fully satisfied with our due diligence. And if we are not in a position to reach a definitive conclusion, we will not shy away from saying so.
Since its launch in Mumbai and Pune, we have scrutinised close to 17,000 messages, sent by our readers on a dedicated line. They ranged from forwards about the demise of a decorated war veteran, to a cell phone number for sourcing drugs for Covid patients, and a purported announcement on another impending lockdown.
Our panel, comprising editors and reporters who cover various agencies and sectors, submitted the data, reports, statements and other details that came in for corroboration to experts and relevant authorities. Their inputs helped us get back to the reader with as clear a picture as possible.
Some of the messages analysed were downright absurd – “all citizens are entitled to ₹7,000 per week to stay at home to combat the virus” – but there were several that seemed to carry a ring of authenticity, providing information on apps offering vaccination slots or quoting statements attributed to people in important positions (“Mike Yeadon, former chief scientist at Pfizer, declares vaccine as a threat to human life”).
This is clearly the more insidious side of social media; half-truths dressed up to appear real. The challenge is to analyse such viral fakes and separate fact from fabrication. This is important because fake news can quite literally be lethal.
“The rapid spread of false information during a pandemic can cost people their lives,” says US-based physician Dr Seema Yasmin, whose recent book speaks about how misinformation spreads faster than microbes in times of crisis.
“In the last year we’ve seen people write Facebook posts from their hospital beds saying they didn’t believe the pandemic was real because of what they’d read on social media and now they were infected,” says Yasmin, stressing on the need to identify red flags in information packaged to be “very certain”.
With truth being the best, most effective vaccination to counter the epidemic of fake news, we urge you to forward all dubious, anxiety-causing messages to our expert panel. Let the green tick in the Times Verified logo counter the tyranny of the grey curved arrow of forwards.