A scientist works in the lab of Linqi Zhang on research into novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) antibodies for possible use in a drug at Tsinghua University's Research Centre for Public Health in Beijing, China, on March 30, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

COVID-19 can be cured by ingesting fish-tank cleaning products.

Cristiano Ronaldo has tested positive.

Coronavirus was developed in Chinese labs.

That’s the kind of fake news that the world has been fighting along with the coronavirus pandemic for the past few months.

The UAE has also not been spared the malicious grasp of falsehoods masquerading as news — but the authorities have moved to swiftly dispel any rumours and imposed stringent penalties to deter miscreants.

Would every phone call and private social media post be monitored in the UAE? That’s fake news that was being spread with the criminal intent of creating panic.

The footage shared on social media of a man splayed out on the pavement in Dubai? That person had an epileptic fit and was not struck down by the virus — as was being falsely claimed.

Misinformation abounds in the time of every crisis — but while the world battles COVID-19 on an unprecedented scale and the death toll mounts, any attempt to divert the UAE and the global community’s attention from that battle is a despicable act of crime that needs to be dealt in the severest term.

Sometimes the intent of such fake news is simply irresponsible — a whole gamut of social media users end up sharing statements and pictures that distort reality and serve to spread fear among people.

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At other times the intention is far more sinister — of deliberately crafting disruptive propaganda that seeks to damage public interest and malign the reputation of countries, companies or communities.

At any scale, spreading rumours and intentionally disseminating fake news at this vulnerable juncture in history is an unpardonable offence.

Social media and tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft have been asked by multiple governments to remove financial incentives from clickbait disinformation and profiteering scams, and deploy the full power of technology, social media and AI to fight the virus instead.

However, beyond institutional action and penalties, every one of us also has a great responsibility to fulfil when it comes to battling fake news, and it’s really easy to do.

Do we really need to share those dubious bunch of pictures that just showed up on WhatsApp with friends and family? Do we really need to retweet something sensational before checking the facts? Can we restrain our instincts when we are not sure whether that story on Facebook is genuine?

Along with government and corporate action, a quick and careful assessment of the scenarios above before we hit that share button will go a long way in helping humanity fight COVID-19 in a far more effective way.