At least fifteen people have died in the Kozhikode district of Kerala because of an outbreak of the deadly Nipah Virus. Social media has been flooded with different messages about the disease, how to avoid it or preventive cures.
But the the onslaught of fake and misleading messages around Nipah Virus has been so intense that the Kerala Police issued warnings.
These messages, largely circulated on WhatsApp groups, are a mixture of known facts from Wikipedia, common health tips, and completely misleading claims. For example, according to this article by NDTV, the outbreak in Kerala may not be related to bats at all.
All these messages try to appear authentic by adding links to reputable websites, or source a healthcare professional.
Such messages are undoubtedly part of a phishing scheme, wherein clicking a link might lead to malware attacks, or generate revenue for the perpetrator by making you visit a website.
The other message that is doing the rounds is a set of health tips by a doctor from Delhi's R.M.L Hospital. However, an Indian fact checking organisation called BOOM had contacted the Public Relations Officer of the hospital, who denied such information had been made public. Moreover, the doctor cited in the message does not even exist.
Another message that recently went viral on social media claimed that no one was allowed to enter Goa from Kerala because of the Nipah virus outbreak.
This message was shared so extensively on social media, particularly on WhatsApp, that the Health Minister of Goa, Vishwajit Rane, had to make a public advisory message clarifying that the Goa government had announced any such alert.
A forged report was recently circulated on WhatsApp claiming that the Nipah virus outbreak was spread through chickens. The government has issued warnings that people spreading fake messages will be punished.
The forged report falsely quoted a Kozhikode District Medical Officer apparently stating that the Nipah virus was spread through chickens. The medical officer in question, Dr V. Jaishree, later stated that no such report was released by her department and wanted the police to launch a probe.
These hoaxes and false messages regarding the Nipah virus aren't restricted to South India either. Similar messages also created a scare in the north eastern state of Meghalaya.
It is patently obvious that most of the WhatsApp forwards that have been circulated since the Nipah outbreak are false or fabricated. While some of these were harmless safety tips, other messages were deliberately concocted false facts and rumours aimed at creating serious panic and mass hysteria among unsuspecting social media users, since people in India tend to take WhatsApp messages at face value. With smartphones and the internet having penetrated even the remotest parts of the country, false messages are now spreading faster and further than ever before.