As misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic becomes abundant on social media platforms, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has urged social media platforms to “take immediate action to disable /remove such content hosted on their platforms on [a] priority basis”.  390 people in India have tested positive for the virus, which has so far claimed 7 lives in the country, according to data maintained by the Health Ministry.

In an advisory issued on March 20, MEITY noted that the circulation of misinformation regarding the coronavirus was creating panic among the public. It also asked social media companies to run awareness campaigns on their platforms so that users do not share misinformation about COVID-19, which is likely to disturb public order and social tranquility. Platforms have also been asked to promote the dissemination of authentic information related to the virus.

MEITY’s advisory came as the Indian government created a WhatsApp chatbot to tackle misinformation about the pandemic. It offers an emergency helpline, along with information on COVID-19, which also includes professional advice by AIIMS director Randeep Guleria in 5 YouTube videos.

While removing all misinformation about COVID-19 would be an uphill task, major social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for their part have taken certain steps to offer authentic information about the pandemic:

  • Instagram said it shows only resources from WHO, Centre for Disease Control, and local health authorities, when someone taps the hashtag related to COVID-19.
  • Twitter said it will remove tweets that can cause harm by spreading dangerous misinformation about COVID-19. However, it refused to remove a tweet by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, where he claimed that children are “essentially immune” to coronavirus.
  • Facebook said it will start removing content with false claims or conspiracy theories about the coronavirus that have been flagged by leading global health organisations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.