Disinformation on the world stage
Tomorrow is International Fact-Checking Day. During last week’s congressional hearing on social media disinformation, BuzzFeed’s Jane Lytvynenko made sure we were focused on the “International” part.
“US lawmakers are doing themselves and their future policies a huge disservice by ignoring the impact of these tech companies abroad, where the same issues they’re talking about are more pronounced,” Lytvynenko tweeted. She noted many of the “12 anti-vaxx superspreaders” referenced at the hearing are foreign nationals, and that the problems of online falsehoods do not respect artificial national boundaries.
Facebook may have been listening when it decided to freeze the account of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro after he repeatedly touted the use of an unproven medication as a treatment for COVID-19. The platform had taken similar action in the past against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, although recently critics have argued the company has been inconsistent in its enforcement.
COVID-19 has brought into stark relief the infodemic capabilities of online falsehoods. That’s why fact-checkers have turned to both regional and international collaborations as a way to fight back.
In June 2020, fact-checkers from Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom published their report on common misinformation narratives about COVID-19 that had spread across Europe. It offered a map and timelines to visualize the spread of falsehoods about hydroxychloroquine, helicopters spraying disinfectant and gargling salt water to treat the virus.
The CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which combined the work of more than 90 fact-checking organizations from more than 70 countries to create a database of over 12,000 COVID-19 fact checks, offered a similar infographic mapping the global spread of five major COVID-19 claims.
But the international spread of mis- and disinformation is not limited to COVID-19. In Myanmar, to justify its take over of the civilian government, the military junta used eerily similar claims of voter fraud as those propagated by former U.S. President Donald Trump. And last October, Politico reported on the spread of QAnon in Europe.
Lytvynenko noted at the end of her thread that Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the company’s efforts to address misinformation in other languages, so the international imperative did get a little attention from U.S. lawmakers.But as reports from The Wall Street Journal, The Diplomat and even Facebook have revealed in the past month, this issue deserves a broader scope of attention.
- NewsMobile: “No, The Meaning Of AstraZeneca Does NOT Translate To ‘Weapon That Kills’; Here’s The Truth” (in English)
- This falsehood got creative digging into the etymology of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s name, however, the eagle-eyed fact-checkers at NewsMobile noticed an error in the way the hoaxter translation — AstraZeneca ≠ Astra-Ze-Necare.
- Lead Stories: “Gas Station Did NOT Have A Sign Recommending Customers Have ‘Your Gun In Your Hand'” (in English)
- In the wake of dual mass shootings in the United States, Lead Stories encountered a photo of a gas station that wasn’t all that it seemed. Through the use of reverse image search, they discovered the photo advising gas station patrons to arm themselves was the product of a meme generator.
From the news:
- “How to Stop Misinformation Before It Gets Shared,” from Wired. Stanford Observatory technical research manager Renée Diresta argues that increasing friction around the way information is shared online may decrease the spread of false information.
- “‘You can’t trust the government’: Spanish-speaking social media spreads COVID-19 vaccine disinformation, adds to hesitancy,” from USA Today. A recent survey by the nonprofit organization Voto Latino found 47% of respondents were hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine, with roughly half of that group saying they would not take it at all.
- “Irish anti-lockdown activists plan ‘Easter Rising’ protests,” from Coda Story. The planned protest is evoking the memory of the armed struggle that led to Ireland’s independence from British rule to express opposition to COVID-19 lockdown measures.
From/for the community:
- “Debunking election disinformation during Uganda’s internet shutdown,” from PesaCheck. During the internet blackout in the hours before Uganda’s Jan. 14 elections, fact-checkers at PesaCheck used fact checks on anticipated falsehoods, phone calls and old fashioned shoe leather to verify and/or debunk claims.
- “Viral Facts Initiative to combat dangerous health misinformation,” from Viral Facts. In its press release announced Tuesday, the Viral Facts collaboration will connect the World Health Organization with fact-checking organizations in Africa, including IFCN Code of Principles signatories Africa Check, Agence France-Presse, Dubawa, and Ghana Fact.
- “Infodemic in Georgia 2020,” from the Media Development Fund. Myth Detector’s 2020 report looks at the main sources and narratives of Georgian language COVID-19 falsehoods, including religious vaccine hesitancy, pandemic denial, and the influence of Russian owned media.
Events and training
- This week the IFCN has two IFCN Talks panels lined up for International Fact-Checking Day on Friday, April 2. The first will focus on the state of fact-checking in 2021 (click here to register), and the second will look at how fact-checkers can better connect with their audiences (click here to register).
- Also on International Fact-Checking Day, MediaWise is relaunching its self directed fact-checking course for senior citizens. The course will be free of charge to the first 25,000 people who sign up.
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