An illustrated interactive book on the infodemic alias fake news during COVID-19 titled “Break The Fake Toons” has been formally launched by Prof. K G Suresh, former Director General of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi and Prof. Ujjwal Choudhury, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Adamas University, Kolkata on 6 June 2020 at the Media Educators’ Round Table Conference. This live webinar was organised by ABP Education powered by the Telegraph and Ananda Bazar Patrika, where more than 2,000 media educators and media students registered.
With a sea of misinformation flooded around the novel coronavirus, Dr. Anamika Ray Memorial Trust, a non-profit educational and research organisation, initiated a campaign #CheckTheFake on #COVID19 in the month of April in collaboration with The Assam Tribune and NE Now. Before launching of the book, Dr. Ankuran Dutta, principal investigator of the campaign project delivered a lecture on ‘Infodemic: Fake News’ at the webinar.
While launching the book, Prof. Suresh appreciated the effort of the team of Trust in creating awareness among the common people using cartoon characters during the lockdown. Prof. Choudhury said, “it seemed that with increasing number of fake news surrounding the pandemic, each passing day is celebrated as April Fool’s day; and from there the campaign #CheckTheFake headed by Dr Dutta, started the journey in a very innovative, illustrated and attractive way to create an awareness on fake news during this crisis situation.
The campaign through two exclusive cartoon characters/protagonists – ‘Pandemic’ and ‘Infodemic’ beautifully represented by their own characteristics competing to each other revolves around the issues being circulated as misinformation. From introducing the new terminology used by the World Health Organization – ‘Infodemic’ as equally destructible to the declaration of the outbreak of COVID-19 as ‘Pandemic’, #CheckTheFake could easily understand the pulse of the crowd on social media by highlighting several issues later found to be false like – rumours about the extension of lockdown whereas at the same time it illuminated the issuance of directives by the Govt. of India to the social media companies for containing the spread of misinformation on novel coronavirus.
From highlighting the misinformation like #CoronaJihad, myth about the dead of virus in hot temperature, minimum intake of warm water to kill the virus, seafood causing corona, cow dung and urine curing corona, distorted figures of corona cases creating tensions, technological effect on immune system causing corona, alcohol can kill corona, shortages of essential items like salt during pandemic, age vulnerability for corona, newspaper, bats and mosquitoes spreading virus, falsification of government’s announcements in view of this pandemic, false recommendation for cure of corona; to superstitious speculation of corona solution, stating quotes from uncertified sources and designing a false structure of lockdown into phases, etc., the project has travelled near and far across the social media to raise the fake issues circulated on social media in the 30 days of the month of April. But it wasn’t enough to accumulate all this misinformation together; many of such misinformation have been left out for the nature of this study which is objective of creating awareness on COVID-19 without falling into the trap of infodemic.
Dr Dutta, the head of the project, said, “#CheckTheFake is a collaborative work taken under Dr. Anamika Ray Memorial Trust. The process includes the research and development of the concept, tagline, dialogues of the characters by the research team. Then it was sent to the cartoonist followed by the finalization of the cartoon by the graphic designer and writing the description before releasing in the website and social media platforms. I am grateful to Dr. Anupa Lahkar Goswami, who played the leading role in developing the ideas with me. In conceptualizing the themes, Trust’s Vice Chairperson Mr. Rajat Baran Mahanta often guided the team. Popular cartoonist Mr. Nituparna Rajbongshi illustrated the concept extraordinarily based on the research of the team. Dr. Sanjib Bora gave special effort in finalizing the cartoons with graphics design and Mr. Raja Das expressed the thematic descriptions of each of the cartoons. The entire team worked very hard every day of the month of April, 2020 and all of them should get appreciation for their sincere efforts to make the campaign a grand success. We won’t be able to reach a large audience, if it won’t be carried by the Assam Tribune, the highest circulated English daily of the region and North East Now, the most read web portal of the region. My sincere gratitude to Mr. Prashanta Jyoti Baruah, Executive Editor of the Assam Tribune and Mr. Anirban Roy, Chief Editor of North East Now. I am thankful to the members of the Board of Trustees of Dr. Anamika Ray Memorial Trust for their encouragement”.
In this biggest Media Educators’ event, many pertinent issues were raised by the panellists. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people consume media and entertainment and like the rest of the economy, this sector is also witnessing a significant disruption of business. While the long-term implications are yet to emerge, questions on how this industry will adapt to the new consumption pattern in the short-term have already popped up. They explained on how the teaching-learning pattern in Media Schools needs to change post COVID-19.