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Medicos, Tech Professionals Call for Ensuring Authentic Information in order to Counter Online Misinformation

Panel discussion on “The Internet, Social Media and the Nipah Virus Outbreak”

Thiruvananthapuram: Informational content has become an important part of medicine and is especially important in the case of a highly infectious disease such as that caused by the Nipah-virus. During a crisis like the present outbreak, all stakeholders need quick access to information, be it the medical community, the government, media or the general population. The Internet is an extremely important part of the information infrastructure, providing the sources as well as the communication channel for information for all these stakeholders,” according to Satish Babu, Immediate Past Chair, Internet Society, Thiruvananthapuram Chapter (ISOC-TRV) and President, inAPP.

He was speaking at a panel discussion organised by the Thiruvananthapuram Chapter of the Internet Society, with experts from the medical fraternity as well as Information Technology experts, on the topic “The Internet, Social Media and the Nipah Virus Outbreak”. The discussion was held during the Annual General Body meeting of the Internet Society.

In the present case, the Government of Kerala was able to provide a co-ordinated response to the outbreak. On the information needs of the common people, while there was an initial delay, the Government did provide information through social media and also provided continuous updates, added Dr. Kavitha Raja, Medical Superintendent & HOD (Microbiology) SCTIMST, Thiruvananthapuram.

At the same time, there were several cases of misinformation delivered through social media, including Youtube and WhatsApp. Some of these reflected genuine questions from people, others were opinions of a few people who seized the opportunity provided by the outbreak to impose their ideas or unfounded opinions. In some cases, the Government acted quickly to squelch these, but in many others, the difficulty in ascertaining sources made it difficult for any action to be taken confirmed Dr Jayan Chandrasekharan (Additional Professor of Surgery and Joint Director, eHealth Kerala Project).

The panel pointed towards the immediate need for an authentic source of information, made available in multiple languages – the languages of the local population and adjoining areas such as Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil, as well as the languages of the migrant workers in the region, including Hindi, Assamese, Bengali and Oriya–and delivered through multiple sources, including the Internet, Social Media, as well as print and visual media. The panel also felt that such authentic information should be pushed actively so as to withstand the onslaught of misinformation.

The panel also considered Government to be the primary source of authentic information, with community sources–such as the community of medical practitioners, media practitioners, the Wikimedia community–coming in as a second reliable source. It was also felt that there should be some forum for citizens to pose questions and obtain unambiguous responses (such as what precautions to take in public spaces such as buses, theatres or on the street, or if the virus would be destroyed upon cooking).
R Srinivasan, Chair, ISOC-TRV was the moderator for the discussion. Vishwanathan Prabhakaran of the Wikipedia Community was also one of the panellists.

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