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India Covid crisis: Expert blasts disinformation in India ‘poisoning public sphere’

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Shakuntala Banaji, Professor of Media, Culture and Social Change at the London School of Economics (LSE), has highlighted alleged“poisoning” of the public sphere in India. She also condemned social media platforms for “not being good enough” in tackling the speed of misinformation.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis, Prof Banaji said: “What we are seeing is that the paid IT cells are tweeting out, going into WhatsApp groups…

“Members of hundreds of WhatsApp groups, despite the best efforts of platforms which are absolutely not being good enough.

“So I think it’s a real moral failure and political failure on the part of platforms to say that have not been able to control this because these people are very clearly doing exactly what the spokesperson you just talked to said.

“They’re retweeting exactly the same things they’re putting exactly the same kinds of memes and GIFs with hateful material, lying materials into these WhatsApp groups and they are poisoning the public sphere.

“They are also spreading medical misinformation around Covid and coronavirus.

“For instance – just to give you an example – two years ago we spoke with a man who said that he operated something like 200 WhatsApp groups… he ran lots and lots of Twitter handles and he said he was doing this 24/7.

“He was just literally doing this. And he said it in a very matter-of-fact way.”

Prof Banaji’s warning came after India registered a record 320,000 new infections on Tuesday, pushing deaths close to 200,000 in total.

The staggering number of coronavirus patients has left the country reeling with severe supply shortages and overwhelmed hospitals.

On Monday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced the UK was shipping hundreds of ventilators and oxygen equipment to India to help fight the Covid crisis.

He told LBC the UK Government has sent over 600 key medical supplies such as breathing equipment.

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