Finding Reliable Sources and Spotting Misinformation in the Time of COVID-19

Robert Nemeth
May 4, 2020 · 4 min read
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Providing accurate information is critical during a pandemic, but journalists face new challenges in accessing reliable sources, while misinformation spreads even faster than the virus itself.

During a global pandemic, providing trustworthy information is crucial.

The hunger for information is insatiable right now. But whom do you trust? That’s where local and established journalists come in,

Kathy Lu, the digital editor of America Amplified: Election 2020, a project of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said in an interview with Columbia Journalism Review.

However, as many other people all over the world, most of the journalists are also stuck at home, which obviously change the way they work. Instead of real meetings, they often must rely on phone calls and videoconferencing applications like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Teams, BlueJeans or Skype, to get their facts. Reporters have to try new ways of finding sources to provide accurate information.

Therefore, several organizations focused on providing journalists with tools and resources to facilitate accurate coverage of the pandemic.

The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford launched the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker to track and compare policy responses of governments. The tracker initially counted data from 73 countries and is being updated constantly.

We believe the data we have collected can (…) provide a first step into understanding exactly what measures have been effective in certain contexts, and why,

project lead Thomas Hale said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based group, also launched its Coronavirus Response webpage, which includes safety advice, but also an “Ask an expert” section, which can be very useful at a time when experts are usually overwhelmed with requests from journalists.

Covid-19 cases are on the rise in Africa as well, but, as the International Journalists’ Network (IJNET) reports, journalists there have to face a unique context,

including a lack of government data, strained media budgets, as well as health systems that have in the past struggled with handling endemic diseases.

Therefore, journalism and media development organizations created platforms aimed at helping African journalists.

One of these platforms, the Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum created by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and IJNET brings together reporters, fact-checkers and experts from all over the world. As they write, the forum connects

reporters with information, resources and each other in an effort to support high-quality, responsible coverage that helps save lives.

The experts even offer live video chats to answer the journalists’ questions.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has also launched its Coronavirus Crisis Reporting Hub: a virtual training, knowledge-sharing and network-building platform, which initially brings together reporters from English-speaking African nations. The hub focuses on “facilitating access to accurate and trusted information through a series of online seminars and working sessions, as well as scaling professional journalism expertise through training and mentoring courses.

Nevertheless, in addition to new platforms offering reliable information, misinformation is also spreading like wildfire. EUvsDisinfo, the European Union website dedicated to countering Russian disinformation identified 337 cases of virus-related misinformation topics to date. The World Health Organization (WHO) already classified this problem as “infodemic.”

Many governments restricted their media laws and made spreading misinformation a criminal offense (used also as a tool to further restrict media freedom), and social media giants promised to step up their effort to remove all Covid-19 related misinformation from their platforms. Nevertheless, anyone who does a quick search will still find false news items about the pandemic.

This prompted more than 100 fact-checkers around the world, led by the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute, to create the #CoronaVirusFacts / #DatosCoronaVirus Alliance. In addition to debunking false news items and conspiracy theories, the Alliance also publishes, shares and translates facts about the pandemic. Its members have conducted to date a total of 3,500+ fact-checks in 70+ countries in more than 40 languages.

With contributions from Rumi Akter and Aleksandra Skripnik.

This post is the fourth in our series on innovations in journalism prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for more articles!

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