More than 100 fact-checkers from 45 countries in 15 languages have joined forces to cover the coronavirus. Meet the journalist pulling them together.

March 18, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking

Spreading as quickly as the coronavirus itself, if not faster, is misinformation about this deadly pandemic.

Fact-checkers from around the world have combined forces under Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network to form the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance. We’re talking more than 100 fact-checkers in 45 countries publishing in 15 languages. In less than two months, they have published 1,000 fact checks, articles and nine weekly reports pointing out misinformation trends and ways to combat it.

It has been a massive undertaking. How do you even begin to coordinate all this?

“Sleeping less than four hours a day is the real answer,” Cristina Tardáguila, IFCN’s associate director, told me.

She’s only half-kidding. Tardáguila said the key is being available on WhatsApp, Skype, Slack, email, Facebook Messenger and her cellphone. Also, she said, it’s important to promote conversation among partners.

“(The alliance) shows that journalists not only can but should drop competing with each other,” Tardáguila said. “Our biggest enemy, the monster we should all aim to destroy, is misinformation — not the next-door newspaper or the magazine. And, to have any chance in this battle, journalists and media outlets must collaborate.”

That’s key because you never know where misinformation is going to come from.

“I am 100% sure that misinformation doesn’t face any barriers at all,” Tardáguila said. “Mountains, rivers, oceans, languages … Nothing can stop it.”

It is interesting how many of the same conspiracy theories are found everywhere. Like how a government agency started the 2019 coronavirus. Or that vitamin C could prevent or cure COVID-19. Or how there was a satellite image that “showed” sulfur dioxide over Wuhan, China, and it proved that countless bodies had been burned there. All false. On and on it goes.

The IFCN has collected all of the fact checks about the coronavirus from alliance members and pulled them together in one database.

Now with $2 million in support from Facebook and WhatsApp, the alliance will continue its work, including finding the sources of this misinformation.

“Fact checks about the 2019 coronavirus can be life-saving,” Tardáguila said. “Some days ago I saw people saying that drinking pure alcohol could be helpful against COVID-19. At first, it sounded so absurd that I laughed. Hours later I read an article saying that 24 Iranians had died, poisoned by pure alcohol. I couldn’t believe my eyes and I also couldn’t keep myself from thinking: What if we had fact-checked that?

“I usually say that facts are the basic unit for every decision in our life,” she continued. “If you have your facts wrong, you will probably make bad decisions.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. Email him at tjones@poynter.org or tweet to him at @TomWJones