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How to Battle Fake News Amid the Crisis of COVID-19

NEWS | 3 April 2020
If the first of April is the April Fools Day, the second is the day for “Facts”. Today, the world celebrated the International Fact-Checking Day, and here’s what you can expect. Unsplash/NOW!JAKARTA

The International Fact-Checking Day was initiated on June 2014 – in political years. The idea was a light-hearted way to call attention to the journalist’s role in holding politicians and government leaders accountable for their statements. Nowadays, fact checking news are  important components of what we do every day when we are consuming contents, even more so, in times of challenges like this, the global crisis of Covid-19.

In the era of fake news today, it is crucial to highlight the importance of fighting misinformation – to be able to verify and to check effectively the accuracy of the information that we are getting because misinformation and disinformation can cause chaos and death unnecessarily. International Fact-Checking Day isn’t just for the fact-checkers, but it is for you too!

Ruth Silalahi, Alumni Programme IVLP/Co-Founder REDAXI, shared her thoughts of fighting against fake news as part of the International Fact-checking Day celebration’s Live Streaming Presentation held by the American Cultural Centre Jakarta. She paraphrased what David Rothkopf believed as what-so-called Infodemic (Information Epidemic), a term he invented in 2003 as a response to SARS epidemic. Recently, it’s been used as well in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, as Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out, “We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an Infodemic. Fake News spread more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous. If we don’t tackle this, we are headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but division and disharmony.”

Now that the Covid-19 has become a pandemic, everyone is talking about it, be it in WhatsApp group, all over social media like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and it’s flooding our newsfeed. Infodemic or fake news (relating to the Covid-19) are an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.

Ruth claimed that since almost anyone can get access to information easily on social media, one needs to be very extra careful about the information quality. If the information has gone viral, it does not necessarily mean that it’s legitimate.

Why do People Easily Fall for Fake News?

MIT professor argues that misinformation boils down to one simple thing, and that is mental laziness, exacerbated by social media. The popular assumption—supported by research on apathy over climate change and the denial of its existence—is that people are blinded by partisanship. Fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than by partisan bias. Also, fake news doesn’t so much evade critical thinking as weaponize it, thus creating a feedback loop in which people become worse and worse at detecting misinformation.

Others may argue that critical thinking and reasoning, in fact, cause people to divide truth form falsehood. In the fast-paced world of social media, it is particularly hard to distinguish fake news because a lot of social media features are not designed to encourage critical thinking.

In Indonesia, there are about 196 hoaxes related to the Covid-19 spread as of Thursday, 12 March, and the list of the falsehood and the counter-narrative has been posted on the ministry’s website, Communication and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate reported. The most significant challenge is to reduce the spread of disinformation, especially on social media because people often share false news far more than the fact-check stories. By the time the fake news is out there on a global scale, it may be too late to remove it.

Recent Covid-19 Fakes According to Prasanna Joshi, Sr. Producer and Anchor/Digital Evangelist ABP Majha

  • Covid-19 has become airborne – which is not authorized by official organisations or WHO
  • Covid-19 is spreading through pet animals
  • Covid-19 can spread through country products
  • Covid-19 vaccine is ready – The truth is that it takes time and several stages, trials, and experiments before it’s ready
  • Traditional herbs/drinks can “Cure” Covid-19
  • Covid-19 can spread through Chinese goods
  • Covid-19 is a bio-weapon, conspiracy!

“We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an Infodemic. If we don’t tackle this, we are headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but division and disharmony.”

Here’s What You Can Do to Spot Fake News

You don’t have to be a professional journalist or a fact checker to spot fake news. Stop and think – don’t rush to forward any posts and messages without being verified yet. If you have any doubts, pause, and do a further research.

Consider the source, and the source’s sources – ask yourself some basic information where the information comes from. When it comes to fake news, usually it doesn’t contain author names, and that’s where you stop.

Pay attention to details such as the overall design of the information because appearances can be deceptive. Ask yourself again if this seems like a high quality platforms which contains trustworthy and well-respected news. If you’re unsure about it, just surf more information online to double check everything.

Fake news sites often look amateurish, have a bunch of annoying ads and use altered or stolen images. Pay attention as well to the URL whether it’s legitimate or not. Many fake news URLs look odd and end up with “.com.co” or “.lo”, for example, abcnews.com.co to mimic well-known news sites.

Detailed background information and contacts are important, too – check the ABOUT US section. If the articles have misspelled words, grammar errors and punctuations, then it is also probably unreliable.

Beware of emotional post because emotion fuels fake news! When you see something that makes you very happy, super sad or angry, it may be playing with your emotions to fool your reaction.

Think about your biases – are you sharing something because you know it’s true, or just because you like and agree with it?

Most importantly, if you are doubtful about the news, just do not share! Don’t forward things on ‘just in case’ they might be true. You might be doing more harm than good!