COVID-19 Pandemic & False News Hoaxes


COVID-19 Pandemic & False 
News Hoaxes
President Trump has played a major role in spreading
misinformation with the result that USA has suffered 
the highest number of Covid-19 cases and mortality
Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

Seven months into the worst Pandemic of a lifetime the virus continuous to spread alongside medical myths and health hoaxes. These have made doctor’s job harder. False news is not a new phenomenon but it has been amplified by the social media. Millions of people all over the world have been killed due to Covid-19 virus. Doctors and other health-care workers are battling the Pandemic of mis-information. The phrase was coined by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres while highlighting the covid-19 fake news campaign. 

In the USA the most advanced country in the scientific world, over 200,000 Americans have been killed by the virus because there is no effective way of averting deaths for the millions who are infected. The president of USA called Covid-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2), a Chinese virus. There was a widespread myth in the West that the virus was created in the Chinese laboratory. Many doctors believed in this myth.

Lt. Gen. (R) Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

Websites spreading health hoaxes on Facebook were peaked at an estimated at 460 million views on the platform in April 2020 according to a report as the virus was spreading in the world. Facebook claims   to assess and add warning labels to faulty incorrect posts but on a subject of post analyzed by Ayaz only 16% of those containing health information had a warning label. Seema Yasmin and Craigs Spenser say that book algorithm rewards and encourages engagement with content that provides strong emotions which is exactly the kind of content patients should doubt and carefully assess false information often packed as novel and sensational. The Ayaaz’s report title calls face books algorithm “A major threat to Public Health” -something Clinical and Research experience simply confirm, the late Dr. John Cacioppa, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, assessed through factually “one of his well-known studies that our attitudes are more influenced by bad news than good news”. Dr. Rick Hanson, neuro-psychiatrist at University of California Berkeley found that our amygdala uses about 2/3rd of its neurons to detect negativity and quickly store into long-term memory, neuropsychologists called the “Brain Negativity Blast”. 

Public Health Organizations have been unable to keep up with deluge of sophisticated medical myths and pseudo-science shared on a Facebook despite efforts of the Center for the Disease Control and Prevention of USA (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), content from the top ten health misinformation sites received four times as many Facebook views as content from the CDC, WHO, and eight other leading health institutions during April 2020. 

Facebook the enabler of fallacies enables known mis-information spreaders to share their bunk widely. Networks spreading health conspiracy theories and pseudoscience generated theories generated an estimated 3.8 billion Facebook views between May 28, 2019 and May 27, 2020. The report quantifies the reach of so called super-spreader of health mis-information on Facebook, including websites such as Green-Med info and Realfarmacy which packages pseudo-science as credible believable news. These include claims like 5G technology is harmful to human health and that certain type of vaccines have never been tested. 

While Green-Med info has been removed from the Internet, it thrives on Facebook. In the last year, it received more than 30 million views and Realfarmacy which according to Ayaaz is on track to become one of the largest misinformation networks in the world received an astonishing 581 million views in a year. One article alone hawking colloidal silver as a treatment for viruses, was viewed an estimated 4.5 million times. The powerful Algorithm of the powerful global platform rewards sensational false content. The consequences are seen in the clinics and the emergency rooms. Patients question evidence-based medicine, refuse safe treatments and vaccines. There is a wide-spread belief in Pakistan that Covid-19 virus does not exist, it is a ploy to get aids, doctors in Pakistan kill patients with drugs and sell the dead bodies to foreign Governments and Agencies and receive a lot of money. Many quote Facebook posts as proof.  

Many Pakistani doctors have been attacked physically-the Govt/ private health facilities property vandalized. Doctor’s job to prevent disease and treat patients becomes difficult.

Public and patients do not observe precautions of wearing mask, physical distancing etc. This has been observed recently-large crowds without wearing masks/observing physical distancing. Vaccinations are refused. It is one of the reasons that the Polio has not been eradicated from Pakistan and Afghanistan as yet -though it has even been done in Africa. It is a common misinformation that vaccines cause sterilization. Vaccination is a Western Conspiracy. It is propagated that the Covid-19 is man-made and is losing its potency. In many countries for a considerable long period there were no cases of Covid-19, there is a second wave now. South Korea is an example. In Pakistan, there is a high rate of illiteracy that makes people more vulnerable to mis-information.  

While doctors and other health care workers play a critical role in passing information and educating the public, they are not immune to the sophisticated techniques of false information. Many doctors and health-care workers have started in believing that the Covid-19 is man-made and prescribe irrational treatments even risky ones. Many doctors have prescribed irrational treatments like “Senna Makki” a laxative and many others as a cure for Covid-19. A very senior doctor in Islamabad propagated through the Facebook media hydroxyl- Chloroquine not only as a treatment but also as a prophylaxis. Many followed it. Even some hospitals in Islamabad / Rawalpindi put their staff on prophylaxis. Inspire of World-wide conclusions that hydroxy-chloroquine could be ineffective but harmful, à trial is being continued and results published on the basis of inadequate number of patients treated. Doctor’s ability   to counsel and provide counsel and care is diminished by a social network that bolsters distrust in science and medicine. Facebook is making it harder for doctors to do their job. It is unfortunate that the president of USA, Mr. Trump has played a major role in spreading misinformation. Resultantly the USA has suffered the highest number of Covid-19 cases and mortality -much higher than other Western countries that followed science. False information existed since the ancient times increasing during epidemics. Irrational remedies like snakes, pangolin oils and others etc. have been used -many times lethal ones.  

In conclusion there is a Pandemic of Covid-19 also a pandemic of false news and hoaxes. These have made a doctor’s job difficult. People do not observe preventive measures - indulge in irrational treatments - many a times harmful ones. Enormous hostility created against the doctors which even risks doctors lives. There is a dire need to take active measures against the spread of misinformation. .People need to be informed and educated to safeguard against misinformation. Social media is the major culprit. It is advised that people may browse authenticate scientific literature and don’t heed to social media news and outcome of substandard trials. At the time of need, we must consult a trustable health expert (Consultant) rather than frow wanderers.