On day 3 of Global Fact 7, fact checkers explored some of the thorniest issues faced in battling misinformation in Asia and the Balkans. Then nearly two-dozen academics and researchers shared their latest findings on topics ranging from trust in the media to questions of competency, believability and techniques for smoking out bad information.
Here are some Day Three highlights:
Keynote panel: Lessons of the “Infodemic”
Keynote Speaker: Rasmus Kleis Nielsen I Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, Director
Moderator: Lucas Graves | University of Wisconsin, Associate Professor
- Ifeaoma Theresa Amobi | University of Lagos, Senior Lecturer
- Rasmus Kleis Nielsen | Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, Director
- Thorsten Quandt | University of Münster, Professor of Communication Studies
- Elizabeth Saad | University of São Paulo, Senior Professor-Research Leader
Keynote speaker Rasmus Kleis Nielsen of the Reuters Institute framed the discussion about the COVID-19 infodemic as a communication crisis. He said there’s a natural tension between the power of large institutions like news outlets and platforms to inform the public, and the risk individuals take in trusting them.
Citing the institute’s research, Nielsen said there are positive signs for how news consumers are getting their information. He said the Institute has found that there is a positive correlation between those who consumed mainstream news and somewhat accurate knowledge about the virus. However, there was also a sizable minority who either did not trust the news media or avoided it all together.
University of Lagos lecturer Ifeaoma Theresa Amobi chimed in with examples from Nigeria. She talked about how false cures and conspiracy theories have been used to discount quality information about COVID-19.
“The problem is these things are filtered through cultural factors and beliefs that people have,” Amobi said. Nielsen echoed this sentiment calling for a serious examination of how politics and culture play a role in the way the public perceives misinformation.
“(If we) solely think of this as problems of information and knowledge, then we are fundamentally misunderstanding the problem,” Nielsen said. “We may even be making it worse.”
Thorsten Quandt from the University of Münster presented a content analysis that compared how mainstream media and alternative media in Germany covered COVID-19. In his analysis Quandt said he didn’t find rampant examples of fabricated news, but he did see alternative media outlets pushing what he called “anti-systemic” coverage.
“For them, corona was just a sign of the failures of the political or societal system,” Quandt said. He added that Germany was also seeing a growth in fringe groups hostile to mainstream news media, however Quandt said his data show these groups are relatively small.
The panel ended with a discussion about the political motivations for spreading misinformation — looking at whether individuals on the far right portion of the political spectrum are more responsible for spreading disinformation. Nielsen reminded everyone the answers are not that simple.
“People can have many different motivations for spreading misinformation knowingly or unknowingly, and it’s sometimes aligned with left and right, but far from always and far from everywhere,” he said.
Academic track | Fakes, misinformation and fact-checking: Current research (part 1)
Moderator: Steen Steensen | OsloMet University, Professor
- Edwin Tallam | Moi University, Ph.D. Candidate
- “Elements influencing trust in online news consumption in Kenya”
- Silje Susanne Alvestad | University of Oslo, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
- “Fakespeak in Norwegian”
- EunRyung Chong | Seoul National University, Director
- “Sleep with the enemy? A study on collaborative fact-checking”
- Ritvvij Parrikh | International Centre for Journalists, ICFJ Knight Fellow
- “Understanding cognition and how it makes misinformation persuasive in WhatsApp”
- Jozef Michal Mintal, PhD-student | Central European University, Fellow, Ph.D. Candidate
- “Business of Lies – mapping the operational and financial background behind top Slovak mis/disinformation websites”
- Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Visiting Assistant Professor, Marie Curie Global Fellow
- “What’s in an ‘infodemic’? Exploring patterns of information consumption, trust and decision-making ahead of the COVID-19 vaccine”
Global Fact’s academic track started this Wednesday with a panel moderated by professor Steen Steensen, from the Oslo Metropolitan University.
In the first half of the session, the audience had the opportunity to hear three researchers: Edwin Tallam (Moi University), who has examined trust in news and discovered that WhatsApp has become an important source of reliable information in Kenya.
Ritvji Parikh (International Centre for Journalists), who has analyzed cognitive issues regarding misinformation, and explored how the design of a message may trigger one’s critical thinking.
And Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), discussed research studying hoaxes about vaccination, and is also worried about the lack of trust in institutions.
After a Q&A session, professor Steensen welcomed another round of researchers.
Silje Susanne Alvestad (University of Oslo) is about to start an investigation to see whether there is anything in the use of language that makes fake news easily believable. She promised to give fact-checkers feedback about it soon.
Jozef Michal Mintal (Central European University) told the audience how he mapped the “business” of lying in Slovakia by researching information about websites that are listed by an NGO as misinformation producers.
One of the most interesting presentations was done by South Korean EunRyung Chong (Seoul National University). After comparing results of claims assessed by different fact-checking organizations in her country, she concluded that in 40% of the cases the verdict wasn’t exactly the same, proving that subjectivity can’t be ruled out from fact-checking.
“Different interpretations, however, don’t arise for ideology,” said Chong, who said the next step could be measuring the impact of different conclusions on readers. Does the inconsistency generate confusion or allows cross checking by the audience?
Academic track | Fakes, misinformation and fact-checking: Current research (part 2)
Moderator: Bente Kalsnes | Høyskolen Christiania, Associate Professor
- Jessica Collier | the University of Texas at Austin, Research Associate
- “Testing Knowledge to Battle Misinformation: How Quizzes Can Improve People’s Memory of Fact Checks”
- Marju Himma-Kadakas | University of Tartu, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
- “‘Sparing time from fact-checking’: Journalists’ skills and competences in recognizing and publishing false information”
- Admire Mare | Namibia University of Science and Technology, Dr. and Senior Lecturer
- “Verifiers of last resort? Information disorders and fact-checking organizations in Africa”
- Thomas Kent | Columbia University, Adjunct Associate Professor
- “The authoritarian information threat: Does fact-checking need to adapt?”
- Scott Hale | University of Oxford, Director of Research and Senior Research Fellow
- “Monitoring health misinformation: An early-detection methodology for fact-checkers”
During the second panel of the academic track, in a session led by professor Bente Kalsnes (Høyskolen Kristiania), an interesting suggestion was raised by professor Thomas Kent (Columbia University): off-shore fact-checking.
During his research, Kent reviewed some of the latest IFCN’s collaborative projects and concluded that countries with authoritarian governments lack independent fact-checking initiatives. Therefore, the fact-checking community should provide this service from other parts of the world – not just sit back and watch how disinformation is clearly used in some nations.
According to Kent, in the last United Nations General Assembly coverage, democratic leaders were heavily fact-checked, but more repressed countries didn’t get that kind of journalism. For this reason, he suggested that the IFCN should select a few nations and pilot an off-shore fact-checking experience, following the benchmark established by Iranian fact-checkers who are based in Canada.
During the Q&A, however, some crucial questions were raised: How could off-shore fact-checkers get national data to work with? Would citizens under authoritarian regimes believe in fact-checks published by an international coalition? Who could guarantee safety and protection to fact-checkers working that way?
Marju Himma-Kadakas (University of Tartu), another researcher, added an interesting point of view. Wouldn’t the off-shore fact-checking be seen as a biased operation against the government right away?
During the panel, Himma-Kadakas presented her latest study and talked about how difficult it is for journalists to recognize visual falsehood. According to her findings, elderly people have it even harder.
Three other researchers participated in this session.
Jessica Collier (University of Texas at Austin) talked about how quizzes can improve people’s memory of fact-checks – but suggested journalists don’t show misleading information to test knowledge.
Admire Mare (Namibia University of Science and Technology), who looked at how fact-checking organizations in Africa have evolved over time
And Scott Hale (University of Oxford), who monitored health misinformation and has been studying early-detection methodology that can help fact-checkers identify falsehoods.
Tackling health misinformation with truth, trust, and tactics
Moderator: Nat Geynes | Meedan, Director of Digital Health Lab
- Dora-Olivia Vicol | Full Fact, Researcher
- Eric Mugendi | Pesa Check, Maneging Editor
- Ifeaoma Theresa Amobi | University of Lagos, Senior Lecturer
- Syed Nazakat | DataLEADS, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
The final panel focused on health misinformation and began with each panelist sharing a health myth they still act out despite knowing it’s not true. Moderator Nat Geynes, director of Meedan Digital Health Lab, called it a “leveling the playing field” exercise to destigmatize people’s belief in health misinformation.
Geynes put a special emphasis on stigma, reasoning it is important when communicating with the public to create a safe environment to ask questions about health misinformation without feeling ostracized for their beliefs.
Full Fact Researcher Dora-Olivia Vicol discussed how health misinformation presents itself in both crises and conspiracy theories. She said the mental stress on the public from crises like COVID-19 makes it difficult to process complex information, and advised fact-checkers to simplify their messaging in a crisis.
Vicol said what makes conspiracy theories difficult to debunk is that they involve changing a person’s worldview rather than their information. She noted research on conspiracies such as anti-vaccine has been limited to people in the global north, but suggested a few possible approaches for fact-checkers such as avoiding imagery of needle and fear based language based on the most current studies.
Ifeaoma Theresa Amobi from the University of Lagos noted that persons faced with a crisis like COVID-19 have a strong mental bias towards information that will allow them to return to the safety of the status quo.
“Any new piece of information even if false that promises that restoration is easily preferred, believed and embraced even by people who should know better,” Amobi said.
She argued this explains why some Nigerians were susceptible to false cures that would let them return to life before COVID-19.
DataLEADS Founder Syed Nazaka talked about how his organization enlisted the help of hundreds of doctors, researchers, and mental health experts as partners in DataLEADS fact-checking efforts. Nazaka said this partnership combines the communication skills of journalists with the health expertise of doctors to stem the tide of misinformation.
Eric Mugendi, managing editor of Kenyan fact-checking organization PesaCheck, emphasized the importance of addressing a claim without elevating the misinformation. He highlighted PesaCheck’s approach of connecting its audience to subject matter experts to allow them to find information for themselves.
“The evidence needs to be put on a pedestal, and at the end of it we need to remember these are human lives we are dealing with,” Mugendi said.
Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.