Remedy worse than the disease!

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The social media going on an overdrive did more to harm public health situation than to ameliorate it in the midst of the raging second wave. Manu Shrivastava finds that the gullible stood at risk because of the so called magical cures and remedies of home-grown concoctions. However, a semblance of accountability seems have been thrown in with the social media putting red alerts in place.

The scourge of Social Media has raised its hood like never before. And, the present-day Covid-19 crisis only provided the perfect platform for fake news peddlers and charlatans to crawl out of the woodwork and present a range of unthinkable possibilities that could wreak further havoc.

So, almost everyone has access to a smart-phone and, concurrently, social media accounts that include WhatsApp which has become almost an essential ‘disservice’ of sorts. The number of ‘cures’, of home-made ‘kadhas’ and ‘immunity boosting concoctions’ especially during the lockdown, rose to heights.

Messages trigger health issues, crisis

What’s worse is that when a message promising a recipient of magical cures and remedies fail to perform, it does worse…it triggers health issues and crisis that could lead to further problems, even death. Also, there’s nobody who takes the blame for a ‘forward’ which is then ‘forwarded as received’, at least not on the face of things. Legally, however, things are different. A sender of a message is legally bound for any action or inaction that may occur following the receipt of a message sent. But, how many people who operate on messaging apps like WhatsApp are even aware of their liabilities: Probably only a miniscule. That apart, there’s even no threat of penal action or legal reprise following damage suffered by a ‘false message’. Which is why the law appears to be finally catching up with the Social Media platforms which only provided fora for mischief but never ever owned up any responsibility of sorts?

Messages arriving on social media and on WhatsApp in particular, tend to be taken with seriousness and dollops of faith, whether they deserve them or not. A medical remedy promising weight loss, or cures to commonplace ailments like acidity, hair loss or depression could cause side-effects, even other problems but are taken very seriously.

False message didn’t hold sender accountable

If a medical practitioner would, on prescription, suggest a pill or a treatment that could cause serious side-effects or damage, the remedy would lie in legal prosecution, penal action that could lead to imprisonment, loss of license and/or damages following a suit in court. Yet, in cases where the identity of a medical practitioner is not revealed or a doctor speaks ‘in good faith’ before an audience or a person and his ‘recorded’ message – audio-visual or text-based is circulated without his implied or express consent, he is not bound legally.

There have been innumerable cures by way of ‘kaadhas’ during the time of Covid-19. Now, not many are aware of the issues that may arise from indiscriminate use of the ingredients in a kaadha. For instance, the use of garlic could lead to bleeding issues if taken along with blood thinning medications and even death to bleeding – external or internal. Concurrently, the use of dalchini – cinnamon powder – in kaadhas for diabetics, already on blood sugar reducing medicines or insulin could lead to a serious case of hypoglycemia, low blood sugar and coma, even death.

Health concoctions may harm more than heal

The ingredients in a kaadha being strong and abrasive in nature could cause severe heartburn issues in one prone to acidity even trigger Gastro Oesophagal Reflux Disease (GERD) that could wreak havoc for months on end.
At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its worst in 2020 and again in 2021 when the second wave emerged in May, medical practitioners were mostly reluctant to physically examine patients and would mostly either prescribe Covid-19 tests for just about any suspicious ailment saying that the symptoms of Covid-19 were ‘vast and vague.’

Also, a lot of doctors would even start of patients on antibiotics – mostly broad-spectrum – or strong ayurvedic concoctions to control ailments that could be tackled by diet, exercise and life-style modifications. These medications like all others come with their bandwagon of side-effects and problems. And, these manifested in odd ways, triggering need for further treatment and intervention and so on and forth.

Self-diagnosis, treatment cause harm

While the chances of misdiagnosis and mistreatment were high, the problems caused by self-diagnosis and self-treatment were even worse. WhatsApp and other messaging Apps only worsened things. With no accountability in sight, and nobody to take the blame for damages occurring owing to false messages, it seemed like quite a bleak affair. Till of late when the Centre has pulled up all such platforms to help identify the first originator of the message and procedures to delete such damaging material and other.
All said and done, it’s the gullibility of the common man which is to blame for the damage that has occurred due to indiscriminate messaging in particular on health issues. If it doesn’t bad enough believe a dangerous message to be a cure, what’s worse is that people forward them and force others too to follow suit.

So, if you approached a police station with a message that reached you and was dangerous or misleading, they would simply ask you to either delete the message and/or block the sender. Apart from that there would be no remedy in sight. If you had to file a suit, it would have to be in personal capacity and the legal route would be purely individualistic in nature.

New rules help enhance accountability

Now, with the social media platform being held accountable, a recipient who has been outraged or hurt by the contents of a message can approach ‘a’ grievance officer appointed by the social media platform, say WhatsApp and ask for the message to be deleted from across the originator’s platform or penal action be sought after identifying the source of the original message that could be causing all the harm.

Now, messages with the ‘Forwarded’ label help you determine if your friend or relative wrote the message or if it originally came from someone else. When a message is forwarded from one user to another more than five times, it’s indicated with a double arrow icon, highlighting the message to be a ‘frequently forwarded message.’ If you’re not sure who wrote the original message, double-check the facts with trusted news sources.

Importantly, one must always verify information before forwarding it to others. Sometimes ‘forwarded’ messages may seem helpful or harmless on the face of it, particularly so if they come from family and friends. Yet, no matter how harmless the situation may seem, one must confirm the facts of the message before forwarding it ahead. It’s easy to verify facts.

Check for facts before forwarding

Either search for facts online before sharing it with contacts and check only trusted news sites or ask professionals for an informed comment on the same.

What is more important than lofty legal processes is the need to educate one and all about the risks of social media and messaging platforms. There is the need to sensitise everyone about messages being harmful and dangerous irrespective of their ‘seemingly harmless nature or well-meant appearance’. Catchy tunes, flashy videos and tear-jerking episodes may break your defences and convince you of the efficacy of a drug or remedy that could actually harm you.

The next time a message reaches you, you must ascertain the identity of the sender and the creator. Also, the message if related to health must be cross-checked with a professional and not the internet which is an ocean of data – valid and invalid. Readers must take all that arrives on one’s mobile with a pinch of salt.


Manu Shrivastava

Manu Shrivastava is a media legal researcher with DraftCraft International, and co-convener of ‘The Woman Survivor’ initiative that documents abuse of women and children within families.

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