A new coronavirus variant known as ‘Omicron‘ is spreading in various parts of the world including in India. Although Nepal has not detected Omicron cases so far, there are growing fears that countries could impose new lockdowns to stop the new variant from spreading. Amid this situation, some unscrupulous TikTok users have posted video clips claiming the government has imposed a lockdown starting November 30.
A Tiktok account named news_24npllite, on November 27, 2021, posted a video clip with a superimposed headline that read “Lockdown notice issued by the government comes into effect from 6 am Tuesday.” The 11-second TikTok post has received more than 127,000 reactions and has been viewed more than 2.5 million times. By Friday (December 3) afternoon, it had been shared by 9,568 users. The clip, which has a logo of web-based Nepali news media ‘Nepal Live’ on the top right corner, shows an empty road, an oncoming ambulance, and police personnel checking scooters. The caption of the video reads “Lockdown begins.”
Since the video contains the logo of Nepal Live, we first scanned the official YouTube channel of Nepal Live for recent posts but could not find any such video clip. As the video clip says “Lockdown…comes into effect from 6 am Tuesday”, we estimated that the video might be from the first lockdown, which had started on March 24 (Tuesday), 2020. Our search on the Nepal Live YouTube channel showed that the original video clip was published on March 24, 2020. The original video is 14 minutes and 52 seconds long. We found that the TikTok user had extracted an 11-second clip from the Nepal Live video and superimposed a headline and published it with an apparent intention to mislead the viewers. While many people have shared the video clip, some have questioned its authenticity and some have also pointed out that the video is old.
One of the unique features of Tiktok is that it allows users to use soundtrack or audio from any sources including other TikTok uses’ clips to create a new video clip. We found that more than 200 other misleading videos have been posted on TikTok by using the soundtrack from the misleading video created by news_24npllite.
A video clip posted by a TikTok user named mr.shreekant_kushwaha1 has mixed the soundtrack from the clip of news_24npllite with a recent Nepal Live news visual that shows a blood test tube along with a caption that reads “Omicron variant is spreading.” We found that mr.shreekant_kushwaha1 had extracted the visual from a recent Nepal Live news clip, which was aired on November 28, 2021, and is about Omicron spread in various European countries and Australia. The user has published the video clip along with words reading “#Today’s Breaking News”. The user has also superimposed “Breaking News” on the video clip.
The video has received more than 50,000 responses and has been viewed over 660,000 times. The video has been shared by 1,715 people.
Similarly, a Tiktok account named itsmebinita8 has created a misleading video using the screenshot of Covid news update published by the Facebook page called ‘Routine of Nepal Banda’ on November 29, 2021. The TikTok user has used the soundtrack from the same viral video posted by news_24npllite. The user itsmebinita8 has superimposed the words reading ‘feri lockdown xya’ [there is a lockdown again] in the middle of the screen. The video has received more than 380 responses and has been viewed more than 7,000 times.
So, we have found that the aforementioned TikTok users have mixed a different soundtrack and different visuals to spread misinformation.
What is Omicron?
The latest coronavirus variant, first identified in southern Africa, has been named Omicron. The new variant has already been detected in dozens of countries including the United States, Australia, several countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. But, no case has been found in Nepal so far.
In an attempt to prevent the new variant from entering the country, Nepal has closed its borders for travellers from eight African countries (South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi) and Hong Kong effective from midnight of December 3. The Ministry of Health and Population issued a statement on December 1 urging people to be cautious and avoid unnecessary foreign travel. According to World Health Organization, it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe disease compared to other variants.
This post is originally published on South Asia Check.