In an opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times, the publisher of an online Indian news portal, Samir Patil, called fake news an infectious disease rather than a technological or scientific problem with a quick fix.


It should be treated as a new kind of public health crisis in all its social and human complexity, he wrote, adding that the answer might lie in the way epidemics — which have similar characteristics — are dealt with.

I went back over my years as a journalist covering pandemic outbreaks — Asian flu; swine flu; Ebola; HIV/Aids among them — and realised that all those have needed both public- and private-sector involvement. Research has had to be funded; global plans put in place to tackle containment; outbreaks tracked; medicines developed and tested; healthcare provided. The list is long. This gargantuan, multi-pronged approach, Patil thinks, is what is needed to respond to and tackle disinformation and fake news. And I think he’s right. It’s an all pervasive virus, this hideous new concoction of our times, fake news. This morning, less than a week before our elections, my helper showed me several messages sent on WhatsApp to her phone by friends and members of her family. All forwarded and re-forwarded messages included pictures, video, and texts that cited a host of promises coming, apparently, from EFF leader, Julius Malema. One message promised that there would be no forced removals if EFF vo...

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