Misinformation haunts sensitive health issues across the world

Social media based misinformation about 'measles' vaccination across the world, and polio in Pakistan put the eradication efforts in danger.

The number of ‘measles’ cases faces an increase across the world except Americas, according to World Health Organization’s presser on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

The WHO’s Kate O’Brien put the blame on ‘misinformation’ about vaccines, and called on social media based outlets and communities to make sure information about preventing the highly contagious disease was accurate.

“We do see misinformation as an increasing threat,” O’Brien said. “We are calling on social media providers, communities, leaders, people who speak out, to be sure you are communicating accurate, valid, scientifically credible information.”

In Pakistan, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta said on Twitter that they had reported some 14 Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for blocking, as they were involved in misinformation and ‘propaganda’, as he said.

In May 2019, The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government had sealed seven private schools who were involved in spreading hate against polio campaigns and inciting parents to violence, resulting in attacks on polio vaccination teams and mass hysteria in Peshawar.

On April 22, protesters burnt down a health facility in the K-P capital following reports that multiple children had allegedly fallen sick after consuming anti-polio vaccine.

Some senior leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazlure Rehman (JUI-F) in the province have also been inciting people to refuse to polio vaccination, and claiming that polio drops killed a child.

There are dozens of more such cases, people spread misinformation, disinformation and fake news for “coordinated” propaganda as well as getting their content viral on social media.

As a response, Facebook blocked as many as 31 accounts/pages involved in propaganda against vaccination in Pakistan on the request of the government’s polio programme.

Pakistani government seems to be helpless to control the anti-vaccination campaigns increasing day by day. Overall 58 polio cases have been confirmed in Pakistan in 2019 till now as compared to 12 in 2018 and only eight in 2017.

Social media based disinformation plays key role in spoiling Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate polio from the country, which still seems to be a dream that hurts.

Disinformation / Misinformation is not only a threat to Pakistan, but it haunts real journalism and health like sensitive issues across the world.

Social media platforms are the way many people get their information and they will likely be major sources of information for the next generations of parents. We see this as a critical issue and one that needs our collective effort to protect people’s health and lives.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director General WHO

Online news goes viral instantly regardless of whether it is true or fake. The social media users neither want to do fact checking before posting big but fake news, nor they try to confirm the authenticity of the news they post.

However, Social media networks are now realize seriousness and socking results of fake news and misleading content shared online. They now try to get public confidence in their platforms by taking a tough stance against fake content and its creators.

In April 2019, Facebook removed thousands of pages, groups and accounts for ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’, in India and Pakistan.

In January 2019, Facebook targeted Russian pages as one of the most affected countries. Facebook Inc. took down more than 300 pages and groups with large number of followers and members, originated in Russia and operated in the Baltics, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Central and Eastern European countries.

We need social media networks and its owners to continue to play a gatekeeper role in stamping out fake news.

Image Credit: Today Testing

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Raza Dotani
Digital media professional, speaker, trainer, blogger and broadcaster in digital marketing, social media management, web designing & development and content creation.

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