Is the coronavirus the greatest information challenge of our time? Thats the central question that four experts addressed as they discussed the fallout of the highly contagious disease worldwide at the Bennett Universitys webinar on Covid-19.
In the hour-long session, the experts discussed the causes and dangers of misinformation and fake news, and also proposed suggestions to counter it. They delved into the reasons that made the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledge the rise of an infodemic, a phenomenon that leads to 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.”
Whats common between an Infodemic & a Pandemic?
Eoghan Sweeney, an online verification expert based out of Berlin, spoke on Battle against misinformation and conspiracy theories.
“(A pandemicand an infodemic) have a number of similarities. Both of them take advantage of our complacency. And often, our sense of urgency in dealing with both comes too late to make a difference, ” Sweeney said.
“The pandemic has spread across the world and no part is untouched by it. The same is true of the way misinformation is spreading. In those terms, it may be the greatest information challenge of our lifetime,” he said.
“Covid-19 has challenged traditional common wisdom of looking for expert sources because so much of this is new and constantly evolving,” he added. “We cant just ask that platforms or legislation stop it. We need to look to the other end, and provide a shield of education to people to how better to consume information.”
How to curb misinformation
Irene Jay Liu, who leads the Google APAC region News Lab, walked the audience through the steps that the tech giant has taken to combat misinformation. The organisation, under its News Initiative, has trained over 15,000 journalists in India on verifying news online. Fact-check panels and rating news articles from authentic sources higher in search engine results are steps in the right direction, she said.
Citing a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Centre, which found that 45% Indians were “very concerned” about misinformation and fake news spreading through their mobile phones, Liu said the phenomenon has “long preceded Covid-19.”
She also cited another study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which found that only 36% respondents trusted the news they consumed from social media. “This requires reflection about how news organisations can gain trust of their users,” she said.
Liu also emphasised that in India, people believe that platfor ms, gover nments and publishers should work together to solve the problem of misinfor mation.
She listed several measures the Google has taken to curb misinformation, including providing additional context. “People loosely believe information that conforms to their ideology. Additional context helps in providing the full picture,” she said, adding that Google and Google News proactively “remove content that violate our community guidelines.”
Liu also said that Google has human raters who assess how the rankings in the search engine works. “They ensure that when you search for something, the source of information is high quality,” she said.
The need for Information Hygiene
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in the UK, reaffirmed that the pandemic has led to global challenges.
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