In 1989, the Kottayam city of Kerala achieved the rare feat of being the first town in India to have achieved 100% literacy, thirty-one years later it is proved that literacy has very less to do with wisdom, rationality and humanitarian concerns.
The first Covid-19 death reported in Kottayam district was followed by the shameful incident after some local residents prevented the dignified cremation of the deceased in the electric crematorium of the Kottayam municipality on the pretext that if the body is cremated in the electric crematorium, the ashes would spreads through the wind and could pose threat to the people. It was allegedly a propaganda and mobilization led by the local councillor who according to the present author is affected by an acute condition of infodemic, which is infectious and malicious.
The councillor’s primary contacts and secondary contacts were quickly affected by the contagion only to be later treated by the law of the land under section 269 of the Indian Penal Code and also under relevant sections of the Kerala Epidemic Disease Ordinance 2020. At a gathering of foreign policy and security experts in Munich, Germany, in mid-February, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” referring to fake news that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.” On March 28th when the Pandemic was just crawling in our country António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, the Secretary General of the UNO said “Our common enemy is COVID19, but our enemy is also an “infodemic” of misinformation.”
WHO explains that infodemics are an excessive amount of information about a problem that makes it difficult to identify a solution. They can spread misinformation, disinformation and rumours during a health emergency. Infodemics can hamper an effective public health response and create confusion and distrust among people.” According to PAHO ( Pan American Health Organization in the month of March 2020 361,000,000 videos were uploaded on YouTube under the “COVID-19” and “COVID 19” classification, and about 19,200 articles have been published on Google Scholar since the pandemic started, and around 550 million tweets included the terms coronavirus, Covid-19 or pandemic have appeared. Like everyone else, I fear the ‘infodemic virus’ as much as the coronavirus and feel that it is as big a threat and as great a challenge as the pandemic itself. My advice to everyone is to engage in exercising rationality, reason and authenticity when dealing with any information, remaining open-minded and refraining from believing in and perpetuating the malaise of fake news, stereotype and prejudice. Just like the usage of sanitisers and face masks is important to keep oneself free from the virus outside, it’s important to adhere to the above guidelines to keep one’s mind free from the onslaught of the infodemic.
K M Vishnu Namboodiri teaches History at the Mar Thoma College, Tiruvalla, Kerala.