COVID-19 Op-ed

Covid-19 as Global Minsinfodemic: A Test for Southeast Asia Countries

Budi A. Rahmawan, S.H., LL.MAdministrative Law LectureFaculty of Law Universitas Gadjah Mada

The spread of the coronavirus disease has reached the necessary epidemiological criteria for it to be declared a pandemic causing countries to go on lockdown. COVID 19 has infected more than 100.000 people in 100 countries (American Library Association, 2020). Problem is when most governments of developing countries do not provide access to information and finance science in such critical conditions.Misinformation seems to be an unavoidable destination.What’s at stake?Since online users are desperately clicking around to read information about the virus emergence, it mean more clicks that lead algorithms to push to social media feed. The results? Dozens of existing hoaxes are shared on the internet including inaccurate allegations, one example is that some patients in Indonesia died instantly after being affected by the pathogen or that inhaling boiling water as an antidote (Palupi, 2020). Problems also arise when online posts made by interviewing non-experts are published targeting audiences in social media platforms who often relate COVID with Theology (Fox, 2020) (Wolicki, 2020) (Considine, 2020) (sindonews, 2020).Definitely, sharing is not caring anymore.Medical misinformation and disinformation are two components of the information disorder in SEA and they require governmental attention. Government measures against misinfodemics should be properly initiated to keep information disorder from worsening. Even if relatively few SEA countries are currently suffering from this crisis, strict control by authorities’ bodies to contain hoaxes are necessary since weak control could lead into public panic and jeopardize effort placed by the government to control further spread of the virus.As SEA countries passed anti-fake law news in recent years, a comprehensive test against such law are in jeopardy. Taken for example Indonesia’s, who passed Information and Electronics Transaction Law (Ministry of Law and Human Rights, 2008) face barring dissemination of fake news being put to the test by the spreading coronavirus. As these are considered fairly new laws, COVID 19 forced governments to rapidly apply their information laws.RecommendationIn a condition where the public needs to rely on verified information; local media, central, and regional government should avoid misinfodemics and fake news. Considering this pandemic scenario, there are several solutions. First, it is important to have a coordinated response between various subjects, government at different level in countries. Second, when countries desperately needed to prepare health systems to meet unprecedented challenge countries can provide temporary policy such as government site, fact checking, speakers’ reputation for discussion, dedicated and accessible public handbook not only for COVID 19 but also for crisis situation and additional fake news tax as measures for media to ensure publics will not panic. These are just a few examples from countries that have been unfortunate enough to have been exposed to this disease and provide very valuable lessons to pass on.Using technology wisely could also be good addition if you know how to use it properly. As technology is a double-edge sword, it is better to use statistical data before release a statement in public areas. Although SEA governments take various approaches, efforts will go to waste if the public refuse to play their part in containing the further spread of misinfodemics and continue drive public sphere.Fear spreads faster than the pathogen itself. Sharing misinfodemics is as easy as click of a button, but the potential threats posed by it cannot be underestimated. This is not a new problem to SEA countries (Sonny & Surrusco, 2020) (Chong, 2020) especially Indonesia (Salim, 2020). There has been avalanche of articles exaggerating how severe COVID 19 diseases and hoax how to prevent the disease, if we look carefully at the texts, one would find that they all follow the same template. In the midst of a health crisis, societies are often less stable and consequently more vulnerable to disinformation. As misinfodemicss are likely to keep popping up, either online or offline, it seems that every SEA countries affected by COVID 19 will suffer if their internet gatekeepers as defense mechanism against misinfodemics are not yet built.With those aforementioned, it is crucial that all concerned stakeholders come to terms with the fact that some developing countries have difficulties in handling such situations. In the absence of a vaccine, the only way of slowing the spread of virus is social distancing. As political theorist Yascha Mounk told. “distancing was just the only thing that worked with 1918 Spanish flu pandemic (Naughton, 2020). And in the online world, maybe we need something analogous such as bit of self-discipline. When one person is not an expert, they should stop virus contamination by not sharing false new.


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