Local impact on global falsehoods
Fact-checkers have long known that falsehoods have global impact, but they are also shaped by where they surface. That was evident in reports out of India and Georgia, where fact-checking organizations looked at the most common tropes and methods that spread COVID-19 falsehoods.
BOOM in India analyzed its fact checks from the previous year and found that most of the falsehoods it encountered were spread through video and manipulated images. The report said most of the videos were shared out of context to spread misinformation about COVID-19.
The report also found the high propensity for fact checks about lockdowns in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic may be making a comeback as March marks one year since one of the world’s largest countries went into total lockdown on four hours notice. After a dip in COVID-19 misinformation following the rise of India’s farmer protests, the report noted that old videos announcing the 2020 lockdown were being revived to falsely claim India was going into a new lockdown.
BOOM also noted a large amount of what it called communal fact checks about COVID-19. These were mostly rumors about the spread of the virus, which BOOM attributed to the scapegoating of Muslims following the outbreak of COVID-19 at a large Muslim gathering in March 2020.
In Georgia, the Media Development Foundation reported that COVID-19 denial was the most prevalent narrative. It said the virus was portrayed by some as a way to control people, which inspired false claims about a “new world order.”
Similarly to India, some Georgians viewed the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to ostracize unwanted groups. MDF reported that pandemic border closures were viewed by some as a boon to efforts to shut down migration into Georgia and promote ultranationalism.
Georgia was also a battlefield of vaccine disinformation, with pro-Russian sources promoting the supremacy of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine over western-developed vaccine candidates. The two most common vaccine misinformation tropes in Georgia were the microchip falsehood and a claim that vaccines are tested on less developed countries for the benefit of larger world powers.
BOOM’s report notes that it is only scratching the surface when it comes to vaccine misinformation. It found a rise in vaccine-related claims corresponding to the rollout of India’s vaccination campaign. It theorized that the rise of COVID-19 cases could lead to a rise in fact-checking claims.
- Agence France Presse: “This is a flag of a Pakistani feminist organisation — it is purple, not the blue found on the French tricolour flag” (in English)
- In the wake of Pakistan’s International Women’s Day March, internet hoaxters and some media outlets made the false claim that marchers were waving the French tricolor flag — a controversial symbol in Pakistan due to France’s permissiveness of caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. AFP pointed out, though, that the flag was actually that of the Women’s Democratic Front, noting the blue part of the flag was actually purple.
- PolitiFact: “What’s in Georgia’s new voting law that lost it the All-Star Game” (in English)
- As controversy continues to swirl around the U.S. state of Georgia’s new voting reform law, PolitiFact published this explainer piece highlighting what the bill actually does. PolitiFact’s Amy Sherman recapped both the changes and implications of the law for early voting, in-person voting, and the state’s election board.
From the news:
- “In a Pennsylvania town, a Facebook group fills the local news void,” from NBC. Hyperlocal online groups on platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor have helped people living in local news deserts feel connected, but have also facilitated the spread of misinformation among well-meaning residents.
- “Facebook Built the Perfect Platform for Covid Vaccine Conspiracies,” from Bloomberg. Reporters Sarah Frier and Sarah Kopit chronicle the ways anti-vax activists have used Facebook and Instagram to prey on users’ legitimate health concerns to spread harmful misinformation.
- “African Immigrant Health Groups Battle Trans-Atlantic Tide Of Vaccine Disinformation,” from NPR. African immigrants relying on information networks from their former countries are increasingly susceptible to vaccine falsehoods, so groups are working to address hesitancy by connecting immigrants to health workers familiar with their cultures and languages.
From/for the community:
- FACTS-NFT, a marketplace for fact-checkers to sell their work in the form of nonfungible cryptocurrency tokens, launched last Friday. The marketplace, which is headed up by former International Fact-Checking Network Associate Director Cristina Tardáguila, aims to test the viability of cryptocurrency as an income stream for fact-checkers.
- Argentine fact-checking organization Chequeado launched its Vaccines In Argentina page to provide readers a central hub of information about the various vaccine candidates potentially available in the country. Users can see each vaccine’s efficacy, what technology it uses and how many doses have been distributed in Argentina.
Events and training
- The Harvard Kennedy School is hosting a panel at 6 p.m. Eastern on April 8 looking at “Disinformation’s Consequences.” Shorenstein Center research director Joan Donovan, tech entrepreneur Roger McNamee, and journalist Kara Swisher will join Shorenstein Center director Nancy Gibbs for a discussion about the role tech platforms have played in exacerbating the spread of harmful misinformation. Sign up here.
- Tickets are now available for PolitiFact’s United Facts of America festival taking place virtually from May 10-13. Guests include Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and CNN’s Brian Stelter. Half-price early bird tickets are available until April 9. Get tickets here.
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