Worried about post-trauma disorders, fact-checkers in India set guidelines for self-care

December 10, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

Working with traumatic imagery is a daily routine for fact-checkers in India.

A video showing a naked young couple being beaten up in the street went viral this week in India as if proof of how bad Christians are treated in the eastern state of Odisha.

Boom, one of the largest fact-checking organizations in India, found, however, that the recording had been made in 2017, in the northwestern state of Rajasthan and had nothing to do with religion.

The horrifying video featured two cousins who  ran away from their families but were caught and brought back to their town. And Boom’s team had to watch the video over and over to debunk the connection to Christians.

Dealing with horrifying imagery is daily routine for Boom. The newsroom is usually flooded with videos and photos of lynchings, child abuse and crime scenes. The majority are sent by readers who want to know if the information is real or not. A quick review of Boom’s latest fact-checks shows that the majority of them are out of context and/or have been manipulated.

For this reason, on Dec. 6, Boom’s deputy editor Karen Rebelo participated in the “Trauma Awareness and Self Care” workshop offered at the Trusted Media Summit in Singapore.

The event, co-organized by the International Fact-Checking Network, First Draft and the Google News Initiative, invited psychologists from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to talk about post-traumatic disorders and tell journalists how to prevent and treat them.

Rebelo said she felt that she couldn’t afford to miss it.

In March, right after the Christchurch terrorist attack in New Zealand, Rebelo sent to her fact-checking team a few guidelines on how to deal with violent acts and pieces of content that are usually spread in the aftermath. She did some reach on the material Dart Center and First Draft had online and compiled a set of rules.

Rebelo started her email explaining why those guidelines were important. “The work we do puts us at the front line and its adverse impact should not be underestimated. Also, I would like to think we have created a newsroom that puts people first.”

After that, she listed six attitudes she expects from her staff to avoid post-trauma disorders.

  1. No messages should be sent on Boom’s WhatsApp group between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  2. Avoid looking at graphic content after 8 p.m. It could interfere with your sleep.
  3. Spell out if a video or image is graphic before sharing it with the rest of the staff.
  4. If you have to fact-check a video and need to watch it more than once, watch it on mute.
  5. Avoid sharing or even describing such posts online.
  6. Do things you love: cultivate a hobby, play a sport, move, spend time with friends and family, read books, get more sleep.

Before finishing her email, Rebelo said she was available for anyone who needed help and wrote: “A better world begins with the best version of you.”

In the workshop in Singapore, Dart’s specialists approved Rebelo’s suggestions. They fit perfectly with the entity’s goal of spreading “trauma literacy.” Boom’s guidelines to deal with violent imagery make journalists aware of how their bodies and minds might react when they see horrifying acts, and suggest techniques they can use to prevent further trauma.

The psychologists celebrated her move.

But right after leaving the workshop, Rebelo received on her phone another video to be fact-checked. This time, the recording explicitly showed a child being abused. So — once more – she closed her eyes and said it was tough to see pieces of content like that.

“In Boom, we publish an average of four fact-checks a day. Many, many of them are stories like this one.”

Recently one of Boom’s fact-checkers requested not to verify a video that showed snipers shooting terrorists. It was only part of a video game but the journalist still said that watching people get shot disturbed her. Rebelo didn’t hesitate. She assigned it to someone else.

Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.