On April 27 WHO website published an article ‘Fighting misinformation in the time of COVID-19, one click at a time’ which writes in its opening “Acting on the wrong information can kill. In the first 3 months of 2020, nearly 6 000 people around the globe were hospitalized because of coronavirus misinformation. During this period, researchers say at least 800 people may have died due to misinformation related to COVID-19.” It writes further “WHO has teamed up with the United Kingdom Government to create and distribute content to combat the spread of misinformation through a series of communication campaigns.”
Currently, along with many countries of the world we are undergoing the third wave COVID-19 pandemic. If you remember the time government announced presence of Corona Virus; people started sharing local treatments, suggestions, and views for corona virus treatment. Interestingly with announcement of existence of Corona Virus cases in the country, the same day remedies came out of the box. Social media got tremendously occupied with flow of misinformation on the topic. To the extent, many of the social media users shared the remedies without confirming the viability of the information. However, we have seen through researches these remedies and therapies were titled as fake and null and void; the articles regarding them were published in leading national and international papers and media houses. Ostensibly people have got exhausted, and the rapidity of misinformation has reduced, but it goes on.
Few months back I had received an advertisement on my WhatsApp, which was regarding rozgar scheme for the youth. The applicants were supposed to get application form from a courier service office and pay rupees 420 as form fees. When I attentively saw the advertisement, the landline number given at was with wrong dialing code, there was no website, postal address, and email address, except a cell number, when I called for information a female responded that ‘this is a grant for business scheme and we will try to give grants to all the applicants’. When I asked her for funding source, criterion for selection or process of disbursement she was not aware. At the same time when we asked courier service franchise, they said this is government program, when they were asked about the department they did not know further.
I received an email for job in Dubai. They asked for my information, credentials and job acceptance. I didn’t reply that email, but confirmed about that from the accredited job portals/websites – about that company, its employees, and offices. I found all was fake. When I discussed a senior professional, who manages job portal informed me of many complains of such fake employers. He informed me that grabbing money, sexual assaults, outrages and even murders of applicants on fake job advertisements have been witnessed.
We have learnt from papers, news items, and social media that many high caliber politicians have shared fake or unconfirmed information on social media especially on twitter. And that information later on is deleted and/or excused by some, after questions of authenticity and objectives of sharing.
Let’s explore the effects of this misinformation on the society. According to the statista.com the public opinion about the impact of fake news in Germany was studied which explained that 58 percent people said that fake news could lead to the discrimination of individual persons, 54 percent said that fake news can lead to the discrimination of groups, 43 percent said that elections could be influenced through fake news, 46 percent said news could be difficult to trust because of fake news, and 42 percent said that fake news contributes to the spread of conspiracy theories.
It was not strange for me to learn; UNESCO convened a two days national conference on “Media and information literacy; a crucial element for peace and tolerance in the face of online violent extremism in Pakistan.” In Islamabad in the year 2019. It is not new because our society has been undergoing effects of misinformation, which are witnessed to be lethal for some communities, and the people, properties and affinity was set on fire, until the matter was set to calm.
We have witnessed the competition of media houses for getting viewership ranking and circulation of newspapers they rapidly share news and print that in the newspapers, either of checking news authenticity. The countries where public is less educated, accepts fake news and true news item. According to the statista.com share of adults who have witnessed fake news in print media worldwide as of January 2019. People in Turkey are a step ahead of all, 72 percent people had witnessed fake news in the print media. Whereas 27 percent in Pakistan had said they had witnessed fake news in the print media.
If we utilize some scientific methods and analyze the effects print and electronic media on the people, probably results may inform us, that through continued fake news people have developed biases, internal ware fares, discrimination against some minority groups, confiscation of properties, murders, political enmities, religious bigotries, social unrest, mistrust, hopelessness, frustration and fatigues as the outcomes; which is affecting people at large.
M. Laeeq Khan Researcher of Ohio University, writes “Fake news and misinformation could be rightly termed as the major issues of our time.” Kalev Leetaru a contributor at Forbes says “Beneath the spread of all “fake news,” misinformation, disinformation, digital falsehoods and foreign influence lies society’s failure to teach its citizenry information literacy: how to think critically about the deluge of information that confronts them in our modern digital age. Instead, society has prioritized speed over accuracy, sharing over reading, commenting over understanding. Schools no longer teach source triangulation, conflict arbitration, separating fact from opinion, citation chaining, conducting research or even the basic concept of verification and validation. In short, we’ve stopped teaching society how to think about information, leaving our citizenry adrift in the digital wilderness increasingly saturated with falsehoods. The solution is to teach the world’s citizenry the basics of information literacy.”
The term “information literacy” was used in 1974 by Paul Zurkowski, According to Prasanna Ranaweera of University of Colombo “Traditionally, Literacy means the ability to read and write. But there seems to be various types of literacy. Such as audiovisual literacy, print literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, web literacy, technical literacy, functional literacy, library literacy and information literacy etc. Nominal and active literacy too focuses on making people aware to read and write in their day-to-day activities. Information literacy is quite different to the above. It is a combination of all these concepts but goes beyond them. Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information”.
Information sharing on social media is an opportunity to test how far we are literate to share information. I do not have data to share on this but, looking at trends, I could say we are very least literate to share information on social media.
Information literacy is the field of study which has emerged with the technological transformation, social effects of data on people, and the appetite for information after the globalization. Not only the people of under developed nations but the residents of the developed nations are not at par with information literacy. Many of us, who are educated and cultured become part of sharing misinformation, experience effects of fake news and disinformation, or witness mishaps caused by fake news at various levels in the society.
As discuss above the WHO is partnering United Kingdom government to control misinformation through mass level awareness campaigns; we could think the depth of misinformation in comparison to them in our less educated society. Probably everybody here needs information literacy.
Generally talking we do not know the need of information we want to have, because we do not set objectives, priorities, functions for use of information. We experience the flow of information, which is going on at different social media platforms and other sources. People at schools, varsities and many professionals have no knowledge and skills of search, they do know the how to initiate search, how to locate the resources, how to differentiate fact and fiction, how to separate truth from fake. Apart from assessing and comprehending the information, we are devoid of interpreting the information. It is found that people communicate the information without knowing the pros and cons, before sharing any information many people do not evaluate the information in hand and they do not initiate any process for authenticity.
We need to initiate information literacy at mega level in the country. However, this is not new theory of education, but is need of modern times. Information literacy needs to be accumulated with mainstream education at school, college, and university level. Apart from that all non-formal education initiatives must include information literacy as its integral part of the community-based adult literacy programs. And mass level awareness campaigns must be initiated for people. I hope if we understand, this will result in integrity, wellness, tolerance, peace and tranquility in the society.
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