Writing about COVID-19 on Wikipedia

Last month was eventful not only in terms of my personal and professional life, but also in terms of my volunteering work. In March-April, I have been regularly writing articles on English Wikipedia about COVID-19, mostly about the medical aspects, issues surrounding the impact of the pandemic and people in leadership in responding to COVID-19.

I am used to doing everything in a structured way on Wikipedia, but COVID-19 changed everything. I usually take days and weeks to think about a new project on Wikipedia, then create a time line and a work plan, and then work systematically on each aspect of the work. But in a crisis situation like a pandemic, this level of structuring is not possible, so I am helping out wherever help is needed. Nowadays, I log in to Wikipedia in the morning, read the updates about the pandemic from there and then go searching for topics that are missing. Given the recentness of the pandemic, there is usually a lot to write about, especially about its socio-economic impact. In addition, the tables about the disease epidemiology need to be updated, new regulations and lockdowns passed in various countries need to be added and the biographies of notable individuals working on COVID-19 need to be created. I work on all these aspects.

I get my references from all kinds of sources, thanks to most journals making their COVID-19 research papers open access. Many magazines and newsletters like The Economist have made their articles related to COVID-19 subscription-free. The WHO, UNPFA, UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many other organisations have also created several documents related to COVID-19 and the impact of the pandemic on various spheres of life. I have generously drawn content from all these sources for creating and expanding articles on Wikipedia.

I have mostly been following the World Health Organisation (WHO) for knowing the latest disease updates, so I mostly bring information from the WHO to Wikipedia. As of 9 April 2020, I have written around 25 articles related to COVID-19 on Wikipedia. The most popular one so far is 2020 coronavirus pandemic in Kerala. The article I am most proud of is Gendered Impact of the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic. The article which I think would be the most useful is List of unproven methods against COVID-19, given the misinformation circulating about the disease. Nearly 700 edits I made on English Wikipedia thus far are on articles related to COVID-19. The articles started by me have been viewed around 35,000 times every day during the last one month.

What am I going to do next? We are still in this pandemic and the situation is rapidly evolving (for better or for worse, we don’t know yet). So, I am going to take everything one day at a time, doing what is important for today, not making any long term plans. I will continue to do what I am doing right now on Wikipedia, until help is no longer needed. As a Wikipedian, doctor and researcher, this is the least I can do to empower people around the world to get open and reliable information about COVID-19.

Stay safe, y’all.

 

How to identify misinformation related to coronavirus?

We live in the era of information overload and misinformation. Ever since coronavirus started being a cause for panic among the public, a lot of misinformation regarding it started circulating in the internet. How to identify if a given information is true or not?

  1. Check the source of the information. If the information you found comes from a website, check the URL to find out if it is a reliable organization. Some of the sources that you can rely on are the governments of your countries, World Health Organization and established newspapers. Even Wikipedia has reliable information related to coronavirus pandemic. This is made possible by thousands of volunteers, including experts, monitoring  pages related to coronavirus and updating the pages for accurate information. There is a Wikipedia page for Misinformation related to the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic. Several instances of misinformation have been recorded here.
    If the information you got is via a social media platform such as Whatsapp, you should be careful about its authenticity. Always ask the sender for the origin of the message if you are unsure if it is true. Encourage everyone to share trusted information only.
  2. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence : If you find a post that says that the the cure for coronavirus disease is found, or makes similar tall claims, it is likely that they are wrong. If a vaccine or medicine for coronavirus gets indeed made, it will be all over the place, not just in that single forwarded message.
  3. If you find something like “The truth behind coronavirus pandemic” or such that has the word ‘truth’ in it, it is likely that they are sharing an unpopular opinion, and therefore, it is likely to be false. Those saying the truth don’t need to affirm that they are indeed saying the truth, but liars need to do it from time to time to make sure their lies are spreading.
  4. If the coronavirus-related post deals with supporting an ideology or a religion, it may be false. In the zeal of projecting one’s ideology or religion first, people tend to create and spread all kinds of news, including fake ones. Neither capitalism or communism has figured out how to control coronavirus spread. Neither Hinduism nor Islam has solutions for preventing disease transmission.
  5. Take extra care when you SHARE information. Only share the posts that you know are true. Don’t be a part of the fake news chain.