Close-up of four Indian elders in black and white. The second person from the left is a woman, wearing a tiara and a sash, reading, 'People's choice'.
"People keep sending me things on WhatsApp but how does one determine what is correct or not?" Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada


What Older Indians Are Believing About COVID-19

Is Russia using lions to enforce a lockdown?

Forwards in family WhatsApp groups and research indicate that the elderly are the greatest shares of fake news.

In the era of the novel coronavirus, this sharing of misinformation has gone into hyperdrive, especially in India which is seeing waves of fake news being shared on Facebook-owned WhatsApp. 

Older adults sharing tons of ‘Good Morning’ images filling up the cloud and creating a headache for Google was funny, but sharing misinformation about a virus especially endangering older citizens can be dangerous. The rate of hospitalization and eventual death from COVID-19 increases with age. This pattern has been seen in every country dealing with the pandemic. In India too, the virus has been fatal primarily for the elderly

But it’s not only the post-retirement folk who share fake news in India. Anecdotal evidence from pre-teens to adults in their early 30’s shows that their parents too share constant misinformation. 

To understand the type of content being consumed by this part of the populace, we spoke to some about what’s in their inboxes.

Savita Arora, 51

An Indian woman wearing a black and white striped dress, with a tall tiara and a white sash. The image has a large brush, multi-coloured border.

“I don’t know if this information is authentic or not.” Photo courtesy: Savita Arora

I’m getting content about coronavirus awareness also, and funny TikToks. I don’t know if it’s authentic or not, but I keep giving everyone at home warm water and soup to drink.

I didn’t learn this from the TV, just decided to use my experience. So I have told my house help to wash our entry gate with phenyl every four hours. I’m also using the power of plants like giloy, so I make a smoothie with giloy stems, garlic and ginger for my family twice a day. 

Do you know of any other good ideas?

Arun Shokeen, 54

Memes are very confusing. On WhatsApp I keep getting videos of lions roaming in a street, and the text says that these have been left on patrol by the Russian government to enforce a lockdown. Unlike India, people there were not staying inside their homes. 

I don’t know if this is real or not, but I forwarded it because it was very funny.

[Editor’s note: Russia did not release lions on its citizens.]

Rajeev Seth, 55

The Russia lions story seems completely fake to me. It’s funny but impractical. People are just sharing unverified information. The best channel to get verified information is Times Now channel. 

[Editor’s note: Times Now has repeatedly shared false information.]

Radha Girdhar, 45

An Indian woman wearing red lipstick sitting in a car. The image has a large brush, multi-coloured border.

“They [China] have controlled the spread in their country, and it’s affecting only the rest of us, why?” Photo courtesy: Radha Girdhar

I’m getting correct information from Inshorts and the television. Everyone is saying coronavirus has come from China because they want to destroy the world economy, then overtake the United States by buying mutual funds and bonds in all markets after they go down. They have controlled the spread in their country, and it’s affecting only the rest of us, why?

[Editor’s note: there is no evidence that the coronavirus is a Chinese conspiracy.]

DD Malhotra, 80

People keep sending me things on WhatsApp but how does one determine what is correct or not? Some people are also saying that China released coronavirus as a bio-weapon to destroy the rest of the world. I don’t think that’s possible, but some people believe it.

[Editor’s note: there is no evidence of that.]

Personally, I’ve only decided to keep basil, clove and nutmeg packed in a handkerchief with me, as someone told me together they stop coronavirus from entering your home. At least people aren’t giving expensive advice, I could gather these for a total for ₹10.

Also read: Indian Techies Use 3D Printing to Make Face Shield Sample for Kolkata Hospital in 3 Days


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What Older Indians Are Believing About COVID-19