Fact-checkers across the globe are using audio, video and new social media channels to reach readers eager for credible and accessible information about COVID-19.
Irish news website TheJournal.ie developed a WhatsApp channel in mid-March in response to a wave of false claims the month before.
“We had never come across people deliberately sharing misinformation like this,” said Deputy Editor Christine Bohan. She observed the gaps between the public’s questions and the lean Irish government’s answers were fertile ground for misinformation. Early rumors were circulating around what role the military would play in Ireland’s COVID-19 lockdown.
“The army was asked to be prepared to help out, but the army was never asked to patrol the streets,” Bohan said.
Indian fact-checking network Newschecker.in faced a similar problem with its audience reaching out to verify rumors about government actions.
“We’re definitely seeing that pattern of people saying, ‘Hey, is it all right if we go do this? Somebody said we could do it, but we’re not sure,” said Newschecker.in publisher Rajneil Kamath.
Both organizations set up dedicated WhatsApp channels to source requests for fact-checks, which, as members of the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, contributed to the nearly 6,900 fact-checks from over 70 countries in more than 40 languages compiled so far.
Bohan said the demand on her site’s WhatsApp channel was immediate.
“There was nobody else doing it. It was a huge gap, so it was good to be able to scale up,” she said.
Kamath said Newschecker’s WhatsApp line grew the network’s audience, and developed increased demand for Newschecker’s regular fact-check updates.
“If we’re a little late they text back and say, ‘We haven’t received your update. How can you be late? You’re a professional organization,’” Kamath said.
Bohan also said she’s seen a tangible benefit from the WhatsApp line, citing a fundraising drive during the pandemic.
“A lot of times when people were donating money, they would cite our fact-checks and our debunks as the reason they were supporting us,” Bohan said.
The work of African fact-checking organization Dubawa Ghana helped it secure a partnership with a local non-governmental organization (NGO), the Alliance for African Women Initiative, to fight misinformation in Ghana.
“A lot of their community members reached out to them and passed on information that they could not verify,” said Dubawa Ghana program officer Caroline Anipah. She said Dubawa Ghana’s reputation inspired the NGO to seek its help.
Anipah said it was a good match. AFAWI got access to Dubawa Ghana’s fact-checks, and Dubawa Ghana was able to widen its network. The two also collaborated on a series of video versions of Dubawa Ghana’s written fact-checks.
“It’s really important to get information down to the grass-root level where people cannot read or write and do not have access to social media,” Anipah said. She added Dubawa is now in the early stages of planning more video fact-checks and finding news ways to engage with its audience.
In Georgia, fact-checking organization Myth Detector also added video content to its written fact-checks to increase its reach.
“We wanted to try something new, and videos are very popular in Georgia,” said Nana Rapava, a researcher for the organization.
It included “Doctor Commentaries” on its COVID-19 fact-checks. They feature audio commentary from a medical expert giving information on topics like false cures, vulnerable populations, and catching the virus from pets.
Rapava said these supplemented pages are drawing increased traffic over Myth Detector’s text articles.
“It’s easier to explain what you’re saying sometimes,” Rapava said, admitting that complex text-heavy fact-checks can be challenging. She said the idea behind the videos is to make it easier for Georgians scrolling through their social media feeds to absorb credible information more quickly.
“It’s more easily digestible,” she said, which she thinks may help counter the effect of click-bait websites – a major source of misinformation in Georgia.