How TikTok Influencers Are Fuelling Fake News on COVID-19

As the coronavirus threat continues to grow with over 4,00,000 confirmed cases across the world, fake news about the virus grows in tandem. Among platforms plagued by the fake news virus amid the worldwide health crisis is social media platform TikTok, owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance.
In India, where the platform is extremely popular and has a massive user base, it is inundated with disinformation around COVID-19.
Outbreak of Fake News on TikTok
From rumours of meat-eating being the cause of coronavirus, to videos that display lack of belief in social distancing despite the crisis, a barrage of disinformation has been doing the rounds. One such video which has been circulated widely claims that the coronavirus can stay in the air for only “8 hours”.
Ahead of the ‘Janata Curfew’ on 22 March announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mridul Madhok, a noted TikTok influencer with 9.1 million followers as of 26 March, put out a video on the platform, taking the fake news a notch higher.
@mridulmadhok ♬ original sound - Mridul Madhok
In his video, which has over five million views, Madhok said that India would get rid of the dreaded virus on 23 March if people stayed home and obeyed the ‘Janata Curfew’ on 22 March.
Madhok further claimed that coronavirus can only stay airborne for a maximum of eight hours and since people had been asked to stay home for a period of 14 hours, from 7 am to 9 pm, the virus would die on 23 March. Moreover, he begged people to follow the curfew, and leave their homes and “do whatever you want” after 9 pm.
Why is this fake news?
Because WHO has clearly said that the virus is not airborne and is only transmitted through droplets and contact transmission. Further, while a study in The New England Journal of Medicine claims that COVID-19 is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel, there is no official WHO comment on the same.
While the study published seemed to indicate that in medical settings, the virus could linger in the air for a period of time during aerosol-generating procedures, there is no basis for claiming that the virus exists in the air for only eight hours.
The 14-hour logic presented by Madhok in the video was also viral on social media. But since the survival time of the virus is not known, staying at home for 14 hours on one day cannot be said to be effective in helping the virus cease exist.
PM Modi’s logic with the 14-hour curfew on 22 March was more to implement the idea of social distancing, which is the need of the hour.
Another TikTok user by the name of Tanya Bhalla, with 230.7K followers as of 26 March, also uploaded a video with the same claim, that if people stayed home for 14 hours on 22 March, the virus would be unable to find a human host and cease to exist within eight to 12 hours.
I support janta curfew##kon kon shamil hoga janta curfew mai comment kre##tiktokindia##caronavirus##covidー19##jantacurfew##edutok##viral##safeindia#
♬ Vande Mataram - Jatin-Lalit;Shankar Mahadevan
Madhok also shared another video, in which he urged people to consume fruits containing a lot of Vitamin C, which he claimed would build their immunity so much that coronavirus would not be able to touch them.
@mridulmadhok ♬ original sound - Mridul Madhok
This claim is also false. Speaking to The Quint, Dr Neeraj Jain, Internal Medicine Gangaram Hospital, said that it is careless to say that increasing the intake of Vitamin C will help in the prevention of coronavirus. Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, Internal Medicine Specialist at Max Healthcare, said that while Vitamin C helps, it is not a proven antidote to coronavirus.
There are other kinds of fake news also persist on the platform. A Twitter user flagged an account by the name of @snofficials, where the user Salman Noman, based in Pakistan’s Karachi, had uploaded a video which encouraged hugging as a practice among Muslims despite the advisory to practise social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.


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