Infodemic, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), is too much information, including false or misleading one, in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak. With the proliferation of information technology (IT), especially social media and the internet, generating, storing and disseminating information has become so rapid that it has started travelling the world at lightning speed. On the one hand, information is power because it encapsulates data, which is the bread and butter of countless people employed in IT companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and many more. On the other, it is becoming increasingly clear that too much information is a daunting problem for many people to overcome. That is because sifting relevant information from the irrelevant one has already become a formidable challenge. Whenever we google for some information, we are bombarded with a tsunami of material, most of which is not only irrelevant but also false. Fake news has become so rampant that it is now a fact of life. One of the major reasons why the public’s trust in media is in decline is because of the mushrooming fake news outlets. Many countries-- from Singapore to Denmark -- have enacted laws to stop fake news from propagating. Time has come for the authorities in Nepal too to enact similar laws, because we have already seen how dangerous infodemic can be during the times of pandemic.
The other day, this daily published a story recounting how infodemic has stymied the efforts to vaccinate people against the raging coronavirus. What really caught our attention was how influential figures, including medical doctors themselves, were propagating the unproven and blatantly false information about the vaccines. Some were even trying to convince people that getting inoculated would make them behave abnormally. Others were advancing the false theory that the pandemic was a plot hatched by the wealthiest individuals to reduce the world’s population or to sell their medical products. As ridiculous as they are, they seemed to have convinced many, because of which legions of people hesitated to get their shot. And the mendacity didn’t stop there. They then propagated the bogus information. That is exactly how fake information makes rounds in the internet before reaching widespread proportions.
Some people -- not only in developing countries but also in developed ones like the US -- disdain vaccination because they believe doing so will violate their belief system. Yet, despite the vaccine hesitancy, many insular people successfully got inoculated because of the persuasive power of the narrative that the vaccines’ benefits outweigh the risks. That said, a vast majority of such people deliberately stayed away from it because misinformation came in their way. There’s no doubt that infodemic has undermined the public trust in not just vaccines but in the entire health system, thereby intensifying and prolonging the pandemic. Surely, far more people would have been vaccinated by now if infodemic hadn’t made the vaccination drive such a scary affair. The power of false information cannot be underestimated, for the damage it has done has been well documented and well evidenced. It would be in everyone’s interest if the government came up with the law preventing the dissemination of fake information. Now is the time to act.