As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across countries, bringing lives and economies, among other things, to a halt, misinformation and fake news about the virus is also thriving.
From rumours of meat-eating being the cause of COVID-19 to claims about cures, a barrage of misinformation has become a problem for the popular Chinese ByteDance-owned social media and video-sharing platform TikTok.
In a video that garnered five million views, Mridul Madhok, a popular TikTok influencer, falsely claimed that coronavirus can only stay airborne for a maximum of eight hours, adding that since people had been asked to stay home for a period of 14 hours on ‘Janata Curfew’ (22 March), from 7 am to 9 pm, the virus would die on 23 March.
But at the same time, there are some organisations and individuals, other than fact-checkers, who are trying to curb the flow of misinformation on the platform.
Here’s a look at some of these.
Social Media Police-ing
Among some TikTok users trying to do their bit in battling misinformation and spreading awareness are the handles of Bengaluru Police and Kerala Police.
The official account of the Bengaluru Police on TikTok, which has 123.7k followers and 931k likes, has uploaded a number of videos which attempt to spread awareness. Their latest video is that of Kannada actress Adhvithi Shetty, in which she talks about how people need to stay at home at this time to beat the virus and support the police and healthcare professionals.
In a couple of short videos, the nature of the virus and how it spreads is also explained, along with why washing hands, avoiding contact with others and staying home is important.
Yet another upload provides a full list of responder hospitals for COVID-19.
The official account of the Kerala Police, which has 665.5K followers and 4.5 million likes is also engaging in spreading awareness. One of their most innovative videos is one encouraging the use of masks and shows the damaging effect of a single person without a mask in the midst of the pandemic.
One of their videos with the highest views is one of actress Manju Warrier, who warns people against going out of their houses for anything but absolute essentials.
Another video of Malayalam film industry actor and producer Fahadh Faasil has the celebrity washing his hands and encouraging everyone else to do the same as a part of their efforts to ‘break the chain’.
Organisations like World Health Organisation (WHO) are taking their own steps to increase people’s awareness about coronavirus. WHO, which has a following of 1.1 million and 4.7 million likes on TikTok, has uploaded a number of videos of the organisation’s doctors who clarify various facts about the virus and how it is transmitted, as well as busting several viral rumours.
The organisation has also put out FAQ videos, videos about how to properly wash hands with a “Safe Hands Challenge”, as well as visually strong videos about certain dos and don’ts surrounding the virus.
The UNICEF India TikTok handle, which has 616.5k followers and 5.5 million likes, has several celebrities making pledges to follow the advice of the government, stay at home, wash hands and not spread misinformation and encouraging others to do the same.
While Sachin Tendulkar demonstrates how to properly wash hands, Amitabh Bachan (whose video has 278.9 million views) talks about basic precautions that can be taken to stay safe from the virus.
The channel also has several videos about various dos and don’t and methods to take precautions against the virus. One short video also provides a list of handles to go to for verified information about COVID-19.
In another series of videos, a UNICEF India doctor also answers various questions about the virus and gives out advice.
Similarly, the official TikTok handle of the United Nations Development Programme - India, with 29.6k followers and 218.7k likes, also has a number of videos on its channel.
Apart from a video on the proper process of hand-washing, they also have a number of videos encouraging people to stay at home, as part of a campaign called #GharBaithoIndia, endorsed by celebrities such as Cody Simpson.
Another TikTok channel with 461.2k followers and 5.5 million likes, that of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a humanitarian aid organisation, has put out several videos spreading awareness on coronavirus. A health expert has hosted a live to answer people’s questions about the virus on the channel, while the organisation’s Director of Health has a a video answering questions on efforts to fight coronavirus.
One such video has a person answering questions connected to rumours about COVID-19.
Additionally, the channel, apart from a hosting FAQ videos, also has several videos busting myths and claims on social media about how to fight coronavirus.
Health Professionals to the Rescue
Apart from these organisations, we also found that a health website by the name of MyUpchar has a TikTok channel, where they upload videos of doctors talking about several health issues. According to their website, founded by Rajat Garg and Dr Manuja Garg in 2016, MyUpchar positions itself as a source of reliable health-related information made available to the population of the country in regional languages. Backed by venture capital firms like Shunwei and Nexus, MyUpchar claims to be associated with over 10,000 doctors.
The people appearing in these videos are all doctors associated with the website, as well as some well-established hospital or the other. For instance, one of the doctors appearing frequently in their videos is Dr Rommel Tikoo, who is Associate Director- Internal Medicine with Max Hospitals.
Similarly, another doctor on their channel is Dr. Samir Parikh, Director, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram. Dr. Jagdish Chaturvedi, an ENT specialist and founder and CEO of HiiiH Innovations Pvt ltd, is another frequent presence on the channel.
The channel has a following of 1.2 million and 6.8 million likes. They have uploaded a large number of videos busting rumours about coronavirus, as well as precautions to be taken.
Apart from these users on TikTok, the platform has tied up with Lifebuoy to start a challenge called #Lifebuoykarona, wherein users upload videos of themselves washing their hands as advised and then tag three other friends to do the same. Several celebrities have also been participating in this challenge.
TikTok’s Discover feature has a panel with facts about COVID-19 that are sourced from WHO, along with numbers. One of the features in this panel is a collection of mythbusters, once again sourced from WHO.
Additionally, one of TikTok’s current campaigns, #GharBaithoIndia has an initiative called Edutok, which has a live-streaming feature, where MyUpchar doctors will be helping with health questions asked by users. At the moment, a live with these healthcare professionals is scheduled for 2 April at 5 pm.
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