Image: Camilo Jimenez
Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant – Summer 2020


During the current pandemic, misleading information has been spreading along with the pathogen. The availability of different social media outlets and access-enabling tools have amplified their dispersion. In Pakistan, the historical legacy of colonial subjugation contributes to a feeling of mistrust towards modernity and its epistemic expressions in the praxis of science and medicine. This burden of the past creates a conducive environment for the reception of ideas that do not require scientific verifiability or qualifies as a safe medical practice. There is, thus, a cascade of misinformation or contradictory statements on social media which is creating hurdles in implementing effective public-health interventions due to public disinclination to support them. Whilst foregrounding the historical contingency for the receptivity of such information, our project aims to delineate the contours of debates about science, rationality, and medicine that continues to inform the public debate on such a critical issue as Covid-19. In this project, we will study the content of Pakistan-based Covid-19-related tweets with a specific focus on political content, health-related content, risk framing, and rumors. Our argument is that by recognizing the historical imperative of responses to modern science and medicine, characterizations of information/misinformation on social media can be more effectively understood. In other words, it is not simply important to document different types of rumors and misinformation circulating on social media but to explore the reasons for which they come into circulation in the first instance and their resonance in a particular political context.

Principal Investigators

Ali Usman Qasmi

Associate Professor, Lahore University of Management Sciences

Born and raised in Lahore, Ali Usman Qasmi received his formal education from Government College University, Lahore. For his doctoral studies, he worked at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University. After completing his PhD in 2009, he was the Newton International Fellow for post-doctoral research at the Royal Holloway College, University of London. He has published extensively in reputed academic journals such as Modern Asian Studies and Journal of Islamic Studies. He is the author of Questioning the Authority of the Past: The Ahl al-Qur’an Movements in the Punjab (2011). His second monograph, The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan (2014), was the recipient of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) Peace Prize in 2015. Qasmi has coedited several volumes as well, including Revisioning Iqbal as a Poet and Muslim Political Thinker (2010), The Shi‘a in Modern South Asia: Religion, History, and Politics (2015), and Muslims against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Ideas of Pakistan (2017). Since 2012, Qasmi has been teaching history at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He is currently working on a monograph on the ideas of citizenship and belonging in Pakistan.

Nousheen Zaidi

Associate Professor, University of the Punjab

In 2008 Dr. Nousheen Zaidi received her doctoral degree in biochemistry from Eberhard Karls University, Tubingen, Germany. After completing her PhD training she moved to New York City and started her post-doctoral research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. There she worked from 2009 to 2010. In early 2011, Dr. Zaidi joined the Drug Discovery Group, Oncology, Johnson and Johnson (J&J), Belgium as a postdoctoral research associate. At J&J, she worked on a project related to tumor metabolism. In late 2012, Dr. Zaidi moved to Lahore to join the faculty of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Punjab University. Her lab continues to focus on tumor metabolism that has emerged as one of the most exciting and dynamic fields of research for the academic and industrial scientists working in cancer therapeutics. Dr. Zaidi is mainly interested in studying the role of de novo lipid synthesis pathways in cancer cell development, progression, and survival. To study the relative importance of dietary and endogenously synthesized lipids for cancer cell progression is one of the key aims of her ongoing/future projects.