Amid Coronavirus Scare, A Spate Of Misinformation By ‘Doctors’ Amplified By ‘Fact Checkers’ And Big Media 

Swarajya Staff

Mar 25, 2020, 02:35 PM | Updated 04:31 PM IST

  • That fake profiles are being created on Twitter and spreading false news about the virus and the government is both sickening and disconcerting.
  • Even more shocking is the fact that big names opposed to the government are lapping up this propaganda and serving it hot to the people, to create panic.
  • Amid the ongoing panic over Coronavirus pandemic and country-wide lockdown, several ‘doctors’ are posting false or questionable claims of masks and protective gear shortage on social media.

    While any claim of such shortage is serious and needs to be brought to the attention of the authorities immediately, we are talking here specifically of Twitter accounts that spread misinformation, added to the panic and later deleted the posts or vanished from the micro-blogging platform altogether, without much of a clarification or apology.

    These dubious posts have been amplified by influential accounts, journalists, political party leaders and “fact-checkers”, putting a questionable mark on their role and responsibility during the ongoing national crisis.

    In one case, one Harjit Singh Bhatti, who Swarajya has earlier exposed to be a full-time Congress worker and not a current treating doctor at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)-Delhi as claimed, posted false information that “healthcare workers in Assam Medical College are forced to cover themselves with plastic bags which are used to carry biomedical waste bcz of lack of personal protection equipments” (sic.)

    A screenshot of Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti’s tweet.
    A screenshot of Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti’s tweet.

    His claim was immediately called out by Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sharma as ”highly motivated”.

    A journalist too called it “fake” citing government officials. Bhatti deleted his tweet, but not before it was retweeted more than 3,000 times and endorsed by influential accounts on Twitter and some journalists.

    In another case, a Twitter handle named ‘@Vikrumaditya’ posted an image with a text suggesting that doctors in Haryana don’t have enough N95 masks, and are being forced to wear the same mask for a week.

    The handle, with display name as ‘Vasundhara Sangwan’ posted, “Wearing this mask for more than a week, as we dont have enough forget the required N95 masks. Have been reusing it after washing.” (sic.)

    The post carried an image of a woman wearing a mask and tagged several handles including @pmoIndia, @mlkhattar, @ReallySwara and @Shehla_Rashid.

    The tweet went viral in no time. Among others, it was retweeted by Alt News founder Pratik Sinha (image above) and The Print founder Shekhar Gupta, who is also president of the Editors Guild of India. Ironically, Alt News introduces itself as a ’fact-checking’ website that ”busts misinformation on social media”.

    The tweet with the unverified claim was deleted later.

    The user later wrote, “I am not affiliated to any party or group. My only concern is that the doctors should have access to proper precautionary gear (be it any hospital across the world) during this hour of emergency. Nothing more than that.”

    This tweet, too, was deleted later.

    After causing the panic, the Twitter handle now shows displays name as ‘VS’ and features no posts at all. There has been no clarification on the deleted tweets from the account, putting a big question mark on the entire row.

    In yet another case, a Twitter user claiming to be a doctor at state-owned hospital PGIMS-Rohtak posted a series of tweets suggesting that doctors don’t have access to N95 marks and other protective gear.

    The posts also mocked the act of clapping and beating of utensils during Janata Curfew on Sunday.

    Curiously, the user account, ‘@drkamnakakkar’, later apologised for “spreading misinformation” and even deleted the account.

    “I apologize for the misinformation/panic created! N95 masks are available in our institution & will be given to all those in direct contact with the Corona patient. There are plenty of masks - we just didn’t know what door to knock. ICMR guidelines have been rapidly changing,” the post read.

    Congress leader Rahul Gandhi used the now-vanished posts to target the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

    Interestingly, even before the user apologised and deleted the account, many Twitter users had pointed out that ‘Dr Kamna Kakkar’ could be a fake handle created only for panic.

    A twitter handle, @effuctivehumor, had said, “This doctor created this ID just a day before and got involved in anti-government propaganda. no surprise, @BDUTT started following her. Neither this woman is willing to give her information to Ketto for crowdfunding nor to the police administration.”

    Another user, @attorneybharti, said,

    The tweets by ‘Dr Kamna Kakkar’ were also reported by several newspapers. However, there have been few follow-ups informing readers that the account has been deleted and the claims made, unverified.

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