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Can there be a vaccine against fake news?

7th September 2021
Vaccine for Fake News
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Image credit: PRWeek Asia

The World Health Organisation didn’t warn just us of the pandemic. It warned us of its sidekick too: an infodemic. Just like a pandemic could originate as innocuously as from an unfortunate meal, so an infodemic can begin with a WhatsApp forward.

How bad can it be? Our body can fight some infections on its own, just like we can (hopefully) fend off: The Nigerian President died in 2017 and has ever since been impersonated by a Sudanese body double called ‘Jibril’, as a regrettable April Fool’s joke. But not all info-viruses are mostly harmless. Pernicious and fake anti-vax campaigns are threatening global immunity to COVID-19, and in the fact have slowed polio, measles, and other vaccine drives across India. No wonder then that roughly three-in-four Indians(77%)said they are very or somewhat concerned about people being exposed to false or incorrect information when they use their mobile phones, including 45% who are very concerned, according to Pew Research in 2018. 

Who’s developing the vaccine for the highly infectious, WhatsApp-borne virus? And the double mutants on the horizon, like deep fakes?

A number of courses, e-modules, and other vaccine development efforts are on across the world, like Italy testing ‘recognising fake news’ in a school syllabus. Mythos Labs, a social enterprise that uses media and technology to promote positive narratives and online safety, has begun its R&D on its own vaccine. They are developing short online modules on social media for anyone to build resilience to misinformation. The modules can help us identify trustworthy sources and reliable guidance in an ocean of noise, as well as protect ourselves from other risks online. And they promise an edutainment approach to keep it light and fun, in partnership with motivated social media influencers to put it together. They will release it for early-stage trials later this year.

Just like vaccine development, efforts like Mythos Labs’ will require long-term, patient capital to conduct stages of trials. An episode of Zindagi Mobile, a national radio show in India, tried to educate listeners about misinformation. It led to a 70% increase in the time spent before a listener forwarded news. However, it didn’t make someone less likely to forward something fake, according to an evaluation by the Centre for Social and Behaviour Change at Ashoka University.

We hope you will join us in participating in the trials and supporting their work in building herd immunity.

To find out more about Mythos Labs, tap here: https://mythoslabs.org.

This is the last article of a six-part series on new ideas to make every Indian feel empowered and safe online. The earlier posts featured:

I) World Comics India which is running workshops that train participants to express themselves through grassroots comics and draw out their experiences with the mobile phone
II) Point of View which is developing MeraDost, a platform that gives low-income women daily digital safety information as well as providing them with a helpline service for harassment and fraud
III) Centre for Internet and Society which is bringing together researchers, activists, and stakeholders to create an alternative content moderation system to help individuals, especially young girls, to have healthier personal feeds on social media platforms
IV) Tech4Dev which is developing Glific, an open-source WhatsApp-based communication platform that non-profits can use to seamlessly and efficiently reach their customers
V) YLAC which aims to increase the participation of young people in the policymaking process and build their capacity to lead change