The social media pandemic

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The social media pandemic

Saturday, 04 April 2020 | Prakriti Poddar

During this lockdown we need to keep our spirits up and not be bogged down by the fake news being spread by scaremongers

The Coronavirus outbreak has put the entire world under lockdown with the total number of cases rising to a whopping 10,16,395 globally and the death toll reaching 53,238. On January 30, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Coronavirus outbreak as a Global Public Health Emergency. As more and more new hotspots emerge daily, experts are anticipating that the onslaught of this pandemic will continue for a few more months before we see the end of it. In the meantime, it has wreaked havoc on the world economy and every social activity known to man. Many countries, including India, have asked people to self-isolate themselves and set a 14-day quarantine period for citizens returning home from abroad.

 Almost all global and national sports events have been indefinitely postponed, TV shows and film productions have been suspended, schools, colleges, malls, restaurants and cinemas have been closed. Foreign and domestic tourism is at a standstill due to closure of borders and aviation activity has been suspended in most parts of the world as well as India. People are working from home as inter-State borders have been sealed, so much so that transportation of goods across borders in the country has become difficult. Now, with the 21-day lockdown imposed by the Government, people are confined to their homes.

  Naturally, anxiety due to the Coronavirus outbreak around the world is at an all time high, with people sporting social distancing discs that limit contact with others, using hand sanitisers as well as wearing masks to protect themselves against this epidemic. Governments around the world have also scaled up their respective healthcare systems and enhanced their capacity to provide timely screenings as well as treatment to people.

Nonetheless, there are various fake news portals as well as social media posts that are being circulated to spread misinformation about the Coronavirus, which is adding to the already-prevalent anxiety. Some myths like cow urine can prevent Coronavirus, spraying alcohol and chlorine on oneself can keep it at bay, mosquitoes can transmit the virus, eating garlic can prevent it, drinking lots of water will flush out the virus as well taking antibiotics will prevent the virus are doing the rounds of social media. People are unthinkingly passing such posts around despite leading scientists and healthcare professionals debunking these myths.

The nature of social media is such that anyone can share any fake or unverified information on their timeline which can cause anxiety among the people who see it. This has led to deterioration of their mental health as they are living in perpetual fear of the disease and resorting to measures which will certainly not prevent the Coronavirus but can potentially harm their health.

Thankfully, Governments are cracking down on such irresponsible behaviour and imposing fines as well punishment for people spreading misinformation. The Indian Government has written to top social media companies, including Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, ShareChat and Twitter, to control the spread of misinformation on Covid-19. In an advisory the Government asked social media platforms to start awareness campaigns, remove misinformation from the platform and promote authentic information on the Coronavirus so that wrong information does not add to the people’s stress. So what can we really do to protect ourselves from this dreaded virus? Healthcare professionals have recommended several precautionary and hygienic measures, which include avoiding hospitals unless there is an emergency and as far as possible avoiding direct contact with healthcare professionals. They also advocate washing of hands regularly especially after direct contact with sick people or their surroundings. People must also stay clear of farm as well as wild animals.

People with symptoms of a severe respiratory infection must limit contact with others and cover their mouth while sneezing or coughing. If they develop a number of symptoms of the Coronavirus, they must report to the nearest hospital and not panic unnecessarily. We must also clean everything around the house and workplace with disinfectant as when infected droplets from a person land on a surface it survives for days on end.

Use hand sanitiser regularly and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose, especially if you have just been outside. Now when India is in a 21-day lockdown, we also need to keep our spirits up and not be bogged down by boredom or give in to fake news being spread by scaremongers on social media.

If you are not working from home and hence have a lot of empty time on your hands, use it productively to finish chores that have been pending for long. Take up a hobby that you never had time for earlier. Pray and meditate. Spend time with family. Play board games, read, watch movies. Do whatever it takes to protect your sanity by keeping negative thoughts in check and escape the pandemic called social media. 

(The writer is a mental health expert and Director of a wellness company)

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