Misinformation Can Be Harmful Like Virus Itself

By Shaurya Kshatri

Kathmandu, July 28: Apart from reeling under a pandemic, Nepal is also fending off a tsunami of misinformation.
Social networking sites are particularly awash with vaccine misinformation, questionable cures, and fantastical conspiracies.

In recent weeks, several social media posts claiming that COVID-19 vaccines can make people ‘magnetic’ are doing the rounds on the internet. In a video that has now gone viral, a TikTok user by the name of @entertainment_n_fun can be seen sticking coins and steel to the arm of a person who has just received a vaccine jab.

Such videos are aplenty in TikTok, mostly uploaded by meme sharing and entertainment-based users. But in some cases, even doctors have filmed their relatives supposedly demonstrating magnetic properties on social media. One such health professional is Dr. Manish Pradhananga, Orthopedic and Trauma Surgeon at Madhyapur Hospital.
TRN contacted the surgeon to see if he had indeed shared such a video or if it was only a hoax. Dr. Pradhananga stands by his claim. He said that he was surprised to see his aunt’s body pulling a spoon and a key just like a magnet pulls iron nails.

Several medical professionals, and independent fact-checking organisations like South Asia Check have dismissed the claims as being baseless. It’s often difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Even people at the helm of decision-making have been found relaying deceptive information. Not long ago, Dhruva Kumar Shiwakoti, the Mayor of Birtamod Municipality, suggested that sniffing three cubes of camphor, four cloves of garlic and half a spoon of carom seeds wrapped in a piece of cotton cloth can indeed cure the virus infection.
Likewise, a peculiar device called Corona Guard, touted as being a revolutionary virulence prevention device to attenuate coronavirus, became the talk of the town. Later the Ministry of Health and Population issued an official notice calling it all a sham.

Misinformation such as this has now contributed to anti-vaccine sentiments fueled by far-fetched conspiracy theories, and fear-mongering.

According to Shreya Singh, Communication for Development Officer at UNICEF Nepal, most people from Muslim communities in Rupandehi were reluctant to get vaccinated. Apparently, it was widely believed that COVID vaccines contained lards and alcohol. Alcohol is considered haram in Islam as a result of which, as Singh points out, many believers kept their distance from the vaccine. Such cases are abundant in Nepal. The problem is that misinformation is spread around by well-intentioned people in family WhatsApp and Viber chats, says Dr. Ramu Kharel, Founder of HAPSA Nepal, and Global Emergency Medicine Fellow at US-based Brown University.

Since the virus outbreak, Dr. Kharel has heard several ridiculous tales from 5G Towers and their supposed role in spreading the virus to Bill Gates’ super villainous scheme to reduce the world population by half. But what irks him the most is the widely held belief among Nepalis that vaccines brought to Nepal from the USA, India, and China are simply test trials carried out to observe their side effects on the Nepali people.
“Nepalis believe they are guinea pigs for these vaccines. But that is not true at all. These vaccines have already been tested and tried before being sent to Nepal,” explained Kharel.

Lately, Dr. Kharel dispels such rumours on his TikTok account under the pseudonym @namastedoctor. Like him, a growing number of Nepali health professionals have harnessed the power of TikTok to reach the masses and relay factual information. Among them, Dr. Nitesh Ghimire’s TikTok account is a popular one with over 71,000 followers. He too has been demystifying the rumours associated with vaccines in Nepal.

With such torrents of fake news spreading faster than the pandemic itself, it is important to distinguish facts from fiction. Fact-checking organisations like South Asia Check, Accountability Lab Nepal’s Coronavirus CivActs Campaign (CCC), and #V4ACTION (Volunteers for Action), a collaborative campaign of the United Nations Nepal and World Health Organisation Nepal, have been playing their parts in busting the myths. However, a couple of them haven’t been as active as they were earlier. The #V4ACTION campaign with its +500 volunteers was highly trending at the onset of the pandemic but it seems to have fallen out of place since. From March 2021 onwards, there hasn’t been any post with the hashtag. Likewise, CCC’s official website civacts.org hasn’t posted any new bulletins or latest information since July 2020.

In Nepal, like elsewhere, rampant fake news and misinformation have become the byproducts of COVID crisis. “Social media have further exacerbated the situation. People should be careful as to how and from whom they receive their information,” added Dr. Kharel.

-The Rising Nepal

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