April 2, 2020

Now, more than ever, fact-checking is indispensable and life-saving


Today, on this fourth annual International Fact-Checking Day, it’s time to celebrate those who work hard to bring you reliable information and, therefore, they help you make better decisions. On this day, we recognize that fact-checking is indispensable for journalism and for every citizen. It’s also time to pressure the powerful and demand transparency in public data. It’s time to make sure that fact-checkers can access the raw material they need for their work and that they can do this free of harassments or threats. Finally, it’s time to celebrate good journalism.

To mark the day, the IFCN has compiled resources that fact-checkers can learn from and also share.

At FactCheckingDay.com, those who are curious about how fact-checkers do their work will find tips on how to debunk and verify false content. If you’d rather test your knowledge, you can try the quiz that the IFCN has created based on the most exciting fact-checks published by its verified signatories. The lesson plans are downloadable, so you can work offline.

The updated EduCheckMap is available for those interested in the intersection of fact-checking and education. This media literacy database launched in 2019 now hosts the most important activities that can be used in classrooms. According to Chequeado, the Argentinian fact-checking organization that is responsible for its maintenance, EduCheckMap offers content in 46 languages from 39 countries. If you are a teacher or a student, there is no better place to go today.

And since the planet is struggling with the new coronavirus, this year’s International Fact-Checking Day will also highlight the volume of fact-checkers’ work on COVID-19. “Fact-checks can save lives,” and you will see that slogan in the video the IFCN launched today.

Across 43 languages and 16 time zones, more than 100 fact-checkers from 60+ countries have debunked around 3,000 hoaxes regarding COVID-19. The CoronaVirusFacts / DatosCoronaVirus Alliance is currently helping citizens make better decisions with accurate information. The group deserves global applause.

For all of these reasons, join the fact-checking community. Read and share the great content produced by your local fact-checker and use the hashtag #FactCheckingDay to show your support.

— Cristina Tardáguila, IFCN

. . . technology

  • Twitter, Facebook and YouTube removed posts shared by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, saying their praise for an unproven coronavirus treatment violated the social media companies’ harmful content rules.
    • Twitter also deleted tweets by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for violating its rules regarding coronavirus-related content when they posted about potential cures.
    • Twitter said the tweets violated recently updated rules in which it broadened its definition of harm to address content that “goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information.”
  • The coronavirus outbreak puts Facebook at an important crossroads, wrote The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin. The social media giant is being forced to police a flood of misinformation while also meeting new demands on its network from cooped-up users connecting with one another online.

. . . politics

  • The big social media platforms have taken stringent action against misinformation about the new coronavirus. Could the same rigor be applied to political content? Writing this week in Foreign Affairs, Sarah Kreps and Brendan Nyhan said that it can’t and shouldn’t be.
    • Among their reasons: “Standards of truth and accuracy in politics are more subjective and likely to provoke controversy.”

. . . science and health

  • The British government’s anti-fake news unit is dealing with up to 10 cases of misinformation about coronavirus a day, The Guardian reported. Some articles are getting more views than all of those posted by the National Health Service put together.
  • As Africa prepares for a surge in cases, misleading information has been spreading throughout the continent. The BBC identified and debunked six false claims.

Of all the misleading claims circulating online about COVID-19, one of the most common has to do with ibuprofen. One Facebook meme, complete with the little green microbe emoji, pronounced that “the virus thrives on Advil.”

This claim has been fact-checked before, but Jessica McDonald from FactCheck.org did what was probably the most comprehensive check so far. Responding to queries from “many readers,” McDonald showed that the claim is simply a hypothesis that hasn’t really been tested.

Fact-checkers know that a scientific hypothesis in the hands of mischievous meme-makers often leads to trouble. To sort through it, McDonald first looked at the claim’s origins, which included a tweet from the French health minister and a letter in a British medical journal hypothesizing that ibuprofen could make it easier for the new virus to enter cells.

Then she traced the claim’s viral path, which included a fake WhatsApp message circulating in Germany, and a fabricated “memo” from a Vancouver hospital. Also feeding the frenzy was an initial statement from a World Health Organization spokesperson – later walked back by WHO – saying ibuprofen was not recommended for COVID-19.

What we liked: McDonald, who last week landed atop The Factual’s most credible reporters on COVID-19, holds a doctorate in immunology from Yale University, so her science background was helpful here. She first described the chemistry of drugs like ibuprofen in the body and then reviewed the literature for medical support for the claim. Her conclusion – that there is no evidence to back up the COVID-19/ibuprofen concerns – was based in science, and she used plain language to explain it.

– Susan Benkelman, API

  1. The Wall Street Journal profiled Lead Stories, and its cofounder, Los Angeles entrepreneur Alan Duke, as it has pivoted to covering the coronavirus outbreak full-time.
  2. Legal scholar Cass Sunstein explained “truth bias” in an opinion piece for Bloomberg, explaining how it might apply to current events.
  3. The coronavirus outbreak has given phone scammers something new to scam about.
  4. In Canada, the College of Chiropractors of Ontario has issued 54 cease and desist letters since March 2 telling practitioners to stop making false claims about the benefits of chiropractic care in boosting the immune system to fight COVID-19.
  5. The U.S. government’s top infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has become the target of an online conspiracy theory that he is mobilizing to undermine the president, The New York Times reported.

That’s it for this week! Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to factually@poynter.org. And if this newsletter was forwarded to you, or if you’re reading it on the web, you can subscribe here. Thanks for reading.

Cristina and Susan

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
Cristina Tardáguila

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