Why #NepalCOVIDInfoX is needed for Nepal

Photo: Jhsph.edu

Ichhya Pant

  • Read Time 3 min.

In the last couple of weeks, for what I felt like endless days and nights, I woke up, witnessed, and processed despairing pleas through hashtags like #IndiaCOVIDSOS frantic for help and support yet resiliently hoping against hope by organizing and uplifting each other in the form of mutual aid. As these calls spread like wildfire I was both heartbroken and inspired.

Little did I know, I was also subconsciously taking notes. My mind hadn’t yet processed the fact that Nepal could be headed towards a similar fate yet when the realization dawned on me I sprang into action. As a Doctoral Candidate whose dissertation came alive during the pandemic (I was writing a dissertation about the spread of false news during crises and emergencies when the COVID-19 pandemic came about), I knew this was my moment to offer whatever little knowledge I’ve obtained as a result of my years of professional work and academic training to advance public health efforts. And this is how #NepalCOVIDInfoX came into existence—with the objective to mitigate the spread of misinformation during the current harrowing emergency in Nepal.

Needless to say, in no time, we were seeing similar pleas and frantic calls for help beginning to rise through Nepali social media spaces. As expected, the need for information far outweighed the quality of information available for Nepalis. In no time, I witnessed volunteer-led groups rise and set up innovative and effective systems to help the public. They were swamped with growing requests for support yet dwindling time and resources to adequately address them. In less than 24 hours, volunteer-led support groups on Viber had over 1500 members requesting information as hospitals were full, medicine, pulse oximeters, and oxygen were in short supply. Simultaneously, demand for plasma therapy began to surge non-stop while experts were raising red flags noting its lack of effectiveness in treating COVID19 and potential to harm patients on some occasions. Despite multiple calls for support by verifying the Nepali Ministry of Health and a list of experts and organizations sharing and amplifying credible information, social media companies (such as Twitter) have remained silent and unresponsive to our utter dismay.

#NepalCOVIDInfoX’s mission is to benefit the Nepali public, media, journalism, governing bodies, and experts alike with credible and timely information.

Just like the suffering and death of humans from the Global South due to vaccine inequity isn’t something the Global North will pay much attention to or mourn over, the spread of false and misleading information which harms public health and well-being in the Global South seems to be an issue powerful social media companies in the Global North such as Twitter along with experts in information science and misinformation can wash their hands off and erase altogether. If state level health departments, clinicians, scholars and journalists from the United States or United Kingdom can be verified overnight and receiving funding or support to mitigate false or misleading information that harms the Global North, why can’t similar entities in Nepal or with Nepali heritage?

And within such a crisis-laden volatile and stressful environment, I envision #NepalCOVIDInfoX’s role to be a conduit of boosting information signals for high quality information. To do this, there are strategic tasks #NepalCOVIDInfoX will focus on: Centralizing and amplifying information from high quality information sources by promoting and using the hashtags #NepalCOVIDSOS and #NepalCOVIDInfoX, work towards developing credible and timely information in regional and ethnic dialects to promote information equity beyond the national language of Nepal (Nepali), centering knowledge from experts on the frontlines or with subject-matter expertise, centering calls for support and information from the public and volunteer-led support groups, amplifying existing fact checks and debunking misinformation which remain unaddressed by fact checks, forming and building relationships with Nepali social media users and influencers, fiercely and unapogetically demanding that social media platforms act with urgency and provide meaningful support to Nepal and Nepalis, training and educating the Nepali public, journalists, clinicians, and policy makers (all interested and key parties) on the importance of credible and timely information during crises and emergencies and on the harmful effect of false and misleading information on public health, well-being and social cohesion.

Indeed, this is an ambitious agenda but this dark and ominous hour that Nepal and Nepalis find themselves in demands this form of ambition. #NepalCOVIDInfoX cannot achieve such a task alone. We need support in the form of mass adoption of our hashtags, supporters engaging with our hashtags and social media platforms, experts who will continue to share their expertise with us and learn with us, Nepali social media influencers and lay users who will amplify us, inform us, and learn with us, journalists and editors who will recognize how mission critical #NepalCOVIDInfoX is and uplift us as well as learn from us. #NepalCOVIDInfoX’s mission is to benefit the Nepali public, media, journalism, governing bodies, and experts alike with credible and timely information.

And if we have any hope of successfully wading through the #infodemic haystack to spot #microneedles of credible and timely information, we need everyone on board! Please join us and help us support Nepal and Nepalis with a high quality information environment on social media.

Ichhya Pant is a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Candidate and Research Scientist at George Washington University. Her dissertation is focused on the spread of disinformation during the COVID19 pandemic.