Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Shun Rumour Mongering

Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” wrote noted Irish satirist Jonathan Swift in 1710. Even after more than three centuries, Swift’s pointed remark amazingly stands true although the world has entered a digital era marked by swift flow of news, information and data across the borders within a short span of time. The technology-driven media is supposed to be accurate and factual but that is not the case as fake news dominates and rumour-mongers play on people’s fear and frustration. There have been numerous studies to trace the empirical evidence as to why the people run after false rumours and heresies, and are slow to believe the authentic information. Rumours rule the roost when there is impending crisis in the society. The mainstream media and government agencies fail to convince the people against spread of such false news and views.

A study conducted in 2018 concluded that falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information. It argued that false news was more novel than true news, and the people were more likely to share novel information. At the same time, false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies while true stories generated anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust, it stated. People become frantic as they feel the threat to their physical survival. But in most cases, unfounded apprehension grips them, turning their social and economic life upside down.

Kathmandu and other major cities have witnessed a similar predicament in the wake of COVID-19 breakout in China and other nations. To date, Nepal has remained safe from this deadly virus. The government has taken many drastic measures to stop it from entering the country. But the rumour of possible breakout of the contagion has led the innocent lots to hoard the essential items, including medicines. As a result, the consumers suffer from the artificial shortage of goods, with black-marketers taking the unfair advantage from the panicky situation. A news report, carried out by this daily on Tuesday, showed how the rumour-driven consumers threw their cap over the windmill. Fearing that COVID-19 will cause shortage of goods, many a buyer thronged the outlets of Salt Trading Corporation (STC) in Kathmandu, seeking to buy full sacks of salt. The STC staff tried to persuade them that it had enough stock of salt and sugar, which will meet their demand for a whole year. Unconvinced, they are still buying 5/6 packets of salt. A sack consists of 50 kilograms of salt which will suffice for a five-member family for up to four years.

In normal situations, a customer buys one packet or two of salt but purchasing around 5/6 packets means they have no confidence in the market as well as the assurance given by the concerned ministry. However, such an uptight behaviour might disrupt the supply chain of essential goods, with knock-on effects on the economy and society. Here is the role of media and government’s line agencies to disseminate correct information to the people about the epidemic as well as the supply situation. At the same time, consumers must not be misled by the baseless reports and buzzes. They are also the responsible citizens who should demonstrate their aptitude to sift fact from fiction, thereby avoiding the looming chaos.