Global Fact Day 3: Fact-checkers discuss the unique challenges in Asia and Eastern Europe

Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

Global Fact 7’s third day began with a series of regional panels from Asia and Eastern Europe. The first looked at how fact-checking organizations in the Asia Pacific region fact-check culturally sensitive topics. The second and third panels considered the complexities of fighting misinformation in India. The final panel examined the challenges faced by fact-checking organizations in the Balkans, a region that has become a global hub of disinformation.

Here are some Day Three highlights:

Beyond facts: Sensitivity of correcting misinformation in public during COVID-19 pandemic

 

Moderator: Masato Kajimoto, University of Hong Kong, Associate Professor

Panelists:

  • Robin Lee | MyGoPen, Project Manager
  • Gahyeok Lee | JTBC Korea, Team Leader of FactCheck
  • Gemma Mendoza | Rappler, Head of Research, Partnerships & Strategy
  • Yoi Tateiwa | FactCheck Initiative Japan, Vice Chair / Chief Editor

The panel moderated by professor Masato Kajimoto, from The University of Hong Kong, started with Gemma Mendoza, from Rappler (The Philippines) sharing how hard it’s been to be a fact-checker under President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Governmental pages and groups promote messages about governmental achievements and usually go against journalists and fact-checkers,” she said, after showing a few memes that went viral in her country, including a photo of a reporter captioned with claims she has never said.

Mendoza emphasized the fact that the Filipino government is about to sign an anti-terrorism bill that targets the work of investigative reporters and fact-checkers. It’s sailing through congress, adding to the pressures Filipino media organization’s like Rappler face. 

“Is the police qualified to arbitrate the truth? No. They have had problems with data regarding the war on drugs. Besides that, arbitrariness is problematic. They call some people for questioning while they don’t call others,” Mendoza said.

In South Korea, fact-checkers had to develop a new code of ethics during the COVID-19 pandemic through its association (union). In this panel, Gahyeok Lee, from JTBC Korea, looked back at the day his team had to assess the veracity of a video that went viral on Kakao Talk showing a woman who  looked like she had escaped from a hospital. The caption read she was infected with the new coronavirus and that a certain city in South Korea wasn’t being effective in containing its ill citizens.

“She was a person with psychiatric conditions but calling her out as mentally ill could damage her human rights. So we decide to give fewer details,” he said. Lee added this was the best way to dispel the falsehood that this woman was infected with COVID-19 without revealing too much about her actual medical condition. 

Robin Lee, from MyGoPen (Taiwan), shared some fake official-looking documents that people posted on Weibo. Lee noted that it is   really difficulty to check the authenticity of  documents from mainland China. 

Yoi Tateiwa, from FactCheck Initiative Japan, offered an optimistic note. After sharing that Japanese media hasn’t been very enthusiastic about fact-checking he said that the Japanese government approached his team and offered to help,  which provides some validation that they recognized the importance of the task.

Of course FactCheck Initiative Japan declined the overture. “We rejected their approach. Governments are trying to manipulate fact-checkers,” he alerted.

 

An overview of fact-checking in India under the light of lockdowns, protests, and the pandemic

 

Moderator: Baybars Örsek | International Fact-Checking Network, Director

Panelists:

  • Bal Krishna | India Today, Fact Check Editor
  • Pratik Sinha | Alt News, Editor and Co-Founder
  • Karen Rebelo | Boom, Deputy Editor
  • Pratyush Ranjan | Vishvas News, Senior Editor

It has been a tumultuous 18 months in India, with plenty of tension between the  between fact-checking community and the forces of misinformation. Consider the string of news:  the dispute between India-Pakistan at the border in early 2019, followed by general elections India, revoking the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir, the controversial new citizenship bill at the year-end, riots in the capital Delhi in February 2020 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One consistent strategy from the purveyors of misinformation in India has largely been targeting Muslim minorities during all these news events.

Pratik Sinha, editor and the co-founder of AltNews fact-checking organization, said, “misinformation has been weaponized by the political parties and right-wing in India.” The focus on very specific issues when they are targeting communities that have led to the marginalization of communities.

“Muslims in India are attacked regularly” on social media.

Boomlive, a fact-checking organization in India published a case-study over a period of three months (January 25, 2020, to May 3, 2020) studying the misinformation. “Out of 178 published fact-checks around COVID-19, the majority of them were false allegations against the Muslims, of purposely spreading the virus”, informed Karen Rebelo, deputy editor of the Boom.

All the panelists acknowledged the need for digital literacy to tackle the menace of misinformation. India’s Vishvas News fact-checking organization has been at the forefront in launching the digital literacy programs.

“Vishvas News has created a group of more than 3,000 fact-checkers in 12 different cities, who are working at community levels and have reached out to more than 100,000 conducting basic fact-check training programs,” said Pratyush Ranjan, senior editor of the Vishvas News.

 

India’s fight against disinformation: The regional challenge

 

Moderator: Jency Jacob | BOOM, Managing Editor

Panelists:

  • Rahul Namboori I Fact Crescendo, Co-Founder
  • Rakesh Dubbudu | Factly, Founder
  • Surabhi Malik | Internews, Program Director, India
  • Trushar Barot | Facebook, Strategic Partner Development

The second panel from India, a country of more than 20 languages, analyzed the challenges around regional diversity and language barriers for fact-checkers.

Jency Jacob, editor of the Boom said that the regional languages and vernacular has been one of the biggest challenges. He said that India has about 75 fact-checkers working in 15 languages, out of which eleven of them are part of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program and a majority of the fact-checking organizations at regional levels are start-up companies in India.

Rakesh Dubbudu, the founder of Factly, said the audience of a regional language is very different from the English and the discourse in regions is impacted by social issues other than politics.

“But this is one kind of fact-checking which gives the highest impact, in terms of opportunities, like we are reaching a population of 100 million in just two states in India when we publish a fact check. In terms of behavior, impact and distribution are very high”, said Dubbudu.

Rahul Namboori, co-founder of Fact Crescendo, which covers fact-checking in India in eight different languages said,” In regions, the first point of exposure is through smartphones. There is always a risk of threat and intimidation, especially by political parties, who sometimes publicly call out fact-checkers by publishing their names.”

Namboori points out that there is a lack of awareness among local  authorities about the effect of fake news and some don’t even know about fact-checking.

The panelists discussed the extensive need for media literacy in regional areas.

“We build a community of fact-checking community with the help of fact-checkers, formed a curriculum and on-boarded 200 trainers and trained them about fact-checking in seven different languages, and those trainers went back trained local at the community levels,” said Surabhi Malik, Program Director for Internews in India, who has been responsible for media literacy programs and runs training initiatives for journalists and locals in different languages.

Facebook India’s Trushar Barot said one of the ways that they prioritize resourcing at regional levels is through state elections. “We also look at our own data for an increase in activity, engagements, and virality across different languages to scale our process at regional levels. That generally does reflect the population of that language in India.”

Fact-checking in the Balkans while the sky is falling

 

Moderator: Tijana Cvjetićanin | Istinomjer, Fact-checking and Research Coordinator

Panelists:

  • Ana Brakus | Faktograf, Journalist
  • Milica Kovačević | Raskrinkavanje, President
  • Vesna Radojević | Krik, Editor
  • Tijana Femić Bumbić| Fake News Tragač, Project Manager

How do you deal with disinformation in such complex region as the Balkans where unhealed wounds of war and nationalistic stereotypes still overshadow the debate?

Ana Brakus from Faktograf started the discussion with a remark that on the eve of COVID-19 infodemic Southeastern Europe was vulnerable to disinformation campaigns. She highlighted that national myths and stereotypes were utilized as a boogeyman by bad actors.

General mistrust of government officials and difficulties in getting reliable data in a timely manner was a problem.

Tijana Femić Bumbić, Project Manager at Serbian Fake News Tragač agreed with Brakus and pointed out that in the case of Serbia – war propaganda from the 90’s didn’t really end.

“There is always some enemy behind it, even if we don’t see him,”  she explained.

Vesna Radojević, editor at Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) mentioned that COVID-19 infodemic in Serbia overlapped with an ongoing election campaign where government officials used propaganda for their political gains.

Milica Kovačević, President of Raskrinkavanje described Montenegrin approach to disinformation where authorities decided to take legal actions against those who produced and shared fake news.

“The problem is that they were very selective” – she said, citing  the case of a person accused of spreading false information targeted at the President. „But they wouldn’t arrest other people who shared more dangerous fake news,”  Kovačević added.

The Montenegrin Government also did try to debunk false claims on its own. “They did that without any methodology and again they did that selectively,”  Kovačević summed up.

All the panelists agreed that infodemic greatly increased the demand for trustworthy sources of information and fact-checking debunks. “People maybe for the first time in the past few years were in real need for real information,” Bumbić said.

 

Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering fact-checking and misinformation. Reach him at hmantas@poynter.org or on Twitter at @HarrisonMantas

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.

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