COVID-19 Response – Learning Session on fact-checking (29 April)

Earlier this year, the COVID-19 Response in Africa consortium sent out a survey to all local organisations involved in the project, to gauge their learning needs. In the survey, the majority of the organisations indicated to be very interested in exchanging knowledge and best practices with other African organisations. That is why we set up the ‘COVID 19 Response – Learning and Sharing Sessions‘, which will take place in the period April to June. We will have ten sessions in total: five in French and five in English.

Last Thursday our sessions on fact-checking took place. In the English session, Eric Mugendi from Meedan guided us through the basics of fact-checking and illustrated its importance. He started by clarifying the terminology and explained why he prefers to use the term information disorder instead of fake news. The term fake news fails to adequately describe the problem, but has also gotten a negative connotation in recent times. The term information disorder is an umbrella term that includes both true and false content, and comprises:

  • Misinformation = false information + mistake (good will)
  • Disinformation = false information + intent to harm (ill will)
  • Mal-information = true information + intent to harm (ill will)

False information has the potential to poison and damage the information ecosystem beyond repair. False information can be spread by well-meaning individuals who genuinely believe that the information they are spreading is correct – in the case of misinformation. In the case of disinformation, the motives for spreading false information tend to be a desire for either financial gain or a desire for political influence. In this era of social media, false information is spread even easier and more rapidly. In Africa WhatsApp is the greatest contributor to fake news. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption actually makes it more difficult to fact-check information, as one cannot know what kind of false information is being spread since it is not public, as on Twitter.

Source: IFLA

Potentially false information can be identified by using the pointers above. Look at who produced the information, what claims are being made, when it was published and where it was published. The main tip is to look beyond the headline. Fact-checks are a useful way to respond to false information. In producing a fact-check, state the claim as it appeared and support it with evidence that should either prove the claim’s falsehood or veracity. Providing sources is of utmost importance. In producing fact-checks, it is important to be polite and state the facts, without a moral judgement or bias. Furthermore, you need to explain why this claim is important and why it merits a fact-check.

One of the major steps that you can take in the long run is understanding your audience and the potential reasons they are either spreading false information or falling prey to information disorder. Additionally, it is important to focus on increasing citizens’ media and information literacy. You want the citizenry to think critically about the information and news they are consuming as well as the news sources that are spreading said information. Furthermore, false information also goes viral because it is interesting and connected to things we are interested in. A strategy to tackle misinformation, therefore, should also include efforts to make facts engaging, tangible and easy to understand. Finally, false information should be corrected fast, which prevents a wide audience from being exposed to misinformation.

Attend our upcoming COVID-19 Response – Learning and Sharing Sessions! Click here for the full schedule (in English and in French), including the Zoom links.