One of the issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic is misinformation about COVID-19 on social media. The spread of misinformation can resemble the spread of a virus. In an interconnected era, information and misinformation on social media and the internet can spread exponentially. COVID-19 misinformation can be dangerous when it impacts human behavior in a way that puts people at higher risk of transmission.
Misinformation and COVID-19
Fighting COVID-19 means fighting its transmission through the use of masks and gloves and social distancing. However, a 2020 research study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School examines COVID-19 misinformation and how it impacts human behavior during the pandemic. The study found a link between misinformation about COVID-19 and lower use of social distancing measures: “We thus draw a clear link from misinformation circulating on social media, notably Twitter, to behaviors and attitudes that potentially magnify the scale and lethality of COVID-19.” However, if social media is perceived as part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution.
COVID-19 in Nepal
Nepal has been strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers Nepal a high-risk country to travel to in terms of COVID-19 levels, suggesting that travelers avoid all travel to the country. The CDC deems Nepal level 4, the highest designation for COVID-19 risk.
The Asian Development Bank predicted that the onset of COVID-19 would reduce Nepal’s GDP by 0.13% and leave almost 16,000 people unemployed. Nepal’s tourism sector, which contributes 8% to the economy, has been severely hit. Tourism has declined significantly from 70% pre-pandemic to less than 10%. COVID-19’s harsh economic impacts have left the country struggling to recover. As impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spread, so has COVID-19 misinformation.
The Volunteer for Action (V4Action) group is a collaborative effort by the U.N. Volunteers program, UNICEF, the UNDP, the WHO and the U.N. Resident Coordinator’s Office (UNRCO). It was launched on March 19, 2020, and the group consists of more than 500 youth volunteers across Nepal with the collective goal of curbing COVID-19 misinformation in Nepal.
The tasks of the group include sharing verified and accurate information about COVID-19 on social media platforms and reporting COVID-19 misinformation in Nepal on UNICEF’s Joint Fight Against Misinformation rumor-tracking platform. In total, more than 100 myths were sent to the UNICEF misinformation platform for debunking. Personalizing the response to cater to the demographic, the volunteers made informative videos in local languages to provide COVID-19 education to people.
Social Media to Fight COVID-19
Overall, V4Action harnesses the power of the youth and social media in influencing the public in a positive way. In addition to debunking inaccurate information about the pandemic, the V4Action volunteers also conducted online research. They efficiently tracked online rumors about COVID-19 using surveys and reported them accordingly.
On one hand, social media can be used to spread misinformation and incite panic. On the other hand, social media can help educate populations on important issues. The V4Action volunteers had an essential role in educating the Nepalese population during the COVID-19 pandemic. They used social media to connect with the population and share fundamental information to limit the transmission of COVID-19. Perhaps, more importantly, they underlined the importance of mental health awareness, solidarity and unity during challenging times.
– Soizic Lecocq