The investigation team at Logically has published a major first of its kind report into COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation in India.
In this comprehensive report, the Logically analysts research and explain the key geo-political, domestic and narrative causes of false information which have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 misinformation in India. This is a particularly acute problem as India has high levels of COVID vaccine hesitancy, with reports suggesting vaccine uptake in some states is as low as 22%.
The COVID misinformation ecosystem is distinctive in India. Unlike in Western countries, there is no overarching disinformation narrative of the pandemic. Instead, the situation in India is much more diffuse. There are several different competing narratives and features of the local Indian context which lead Indians to deviate from public health advice, and/or believe that the risk from COVID-19 is low or negligible.
Key factors outlined in this report include:
- India’s fiercely adversarial political landscape has proved a driver of misinformation across the political spectrum: groups are keen to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of vaccines linked to international and domestic political rivals, with the effect of eroding trust across the board.
- The many competing narratives and drivers of misinformation across platforms including Whatsapp, Twitter, Telegram, YouTube and Quora.
- Some mainstream media outlets in India have also contributed to misinformation about COVID-19 through misleading headlines and a failure to adhere to high quality journalistic practices.
- Unethical practices during testing phases on the part of some pharmaceutical companies has also proved damaging to public trust.
- The popularity of alternative medicines in India has contributed to confusion in communications between which cures are backed by scientific evidence and which are not.
The future of our public health is reliant on all of us playing our part to call out and address harmful misleading content
The report makes a number of recommendations:
- A call for a committed effort to develop a cross-party consensus with regard to public health measures, including less partisan rhetoric attached to public health campaigns and following accepted guidelines with respect to testing schedules and ethics in the development of vaccines to limit opportunities for harsh criticism.
- Government authorities must take note of the methods by which anti-vaxxers deploy misinformation online, but must be careful when engaging with it directly. Targeting monetising strategies is as effective as counter narratives when dealing with anti-vax misinformation.
- Public health communications should be clear, consistent and accurate. They should also include information that is accessible to a range of audiences of differing levels of education and comprehension levels.
- Clarity about the efficacy of alternative medicines is also necessary: authorities should be unequivocal in explaining that these medicines are at best complementary to, and not a replacement for, conventional medicine.
- Anti-vax “celebrities” such as Biswaroop Roy Choudhary continue to be a problem. In some cases, deplatforming by individual tech platforms has not completely neutralised these threats, and wider ranging content moderation is necessary.
- Pharmaceutical companies must take seriously their commitments to ethical guidelines in testing practices, and penalties for breaking these guidelines should be enforced.
Founder and CEO of Logically, Lyric Jain, said: “This report demonstrates the scale and complexity of the misinformation challenge in India and the risk it poses to the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. The future of our public health is reliant on all of us playing our part to call out and address harmful misleading content. I urge all relevant stakeholders, from government to platforms, civil society and community leaders, to work together closely to share information, intervene earlier and stop this content spreading.”
To read the full report, click here.