The COVID-19 pandemic created what the World Health Organization has called an ‘infodemic’ – massive amounts of misinformation passing through the airwaves and billions of social media feeds every day. In times like these, people need information to be accurate, cross-checked, and useful, as this can literally save lives. During a virtual meeting of the Hollings Center Young Professionals in International Relations (YPIR) network, Batuhan Ersun spoke on how to deal with the copious amount of false information flowing through multiple channels, especially during times of crisis. He elaborated on the measures social media platforms are taking to prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic, noting that these platforms need to be doing a lot more. For the past two months 80% of content checked by fact-checking platforms has been related to COVID-19.
Batuhan Ersun is the chairman of On Watch Association in Turkey, where he is also the executive director of the association’s flagship project, Doğruluk Payı (Share of Truth). Doğruluk Payı is Turkey’s first fact-checking platform, founded in 2014, geared mainly towards checking political statements and tracking campaign promises by using open source data.
Based on data from Duke University, there are 240 active fact-checking platforms around the world, all acting as information clearinghouses through verification of digital content, fact-checking, accountability-tracking and / or publishing informative/comparative articles based on country data. The umbrella organization, IFCN, has a code of principles that govern how these platforms should operate, of which Ersun’s association is a signatory. Even as the organizational practice of fact-checking and verification grow, individuals will still need to play a significant role going forward.
What can individuals do to prevent the infodemic? Ersun suggested getting information from official accounts such as WHO, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or national health authorities; reading scientific articles about COVID-19 if possible, and following content from fact-checking organizations. Most importantly, however, individuals should realize their power in spreading information, and stop and think twice about sharing content on social media. This might be especially challenging, because for the most part, people are desperately trying to be helpful and find solid ground in the unchartered territory of an unknown disease. People’s best intentions may also be a key factor in spreading false information “’I will not share this, just in case’ should be the motto of the day,” Ersun said.
Responding to questions from the participants, Ersun discussed further about his organization and the challenges faced by language barriers, data transparency, and government cooperation. He further noted that fact-checking organizations should work with communities on both ends of the political spectrum, noting in particular the need to reach out to underserved conservative communities in many countries.