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Weekly Newsletter on the Ongoing Infodemic: May 11, 2020

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This is a real-time article, and there are more awe-inspiring projects we forgot to mention. If you want to share a new and different project by your organisation or others, send us a message.

Fact-checking and Innovation: WhatsApp Chatbots, online archives and more product updates

Amid this disquietude, the novel coronavirus is teaching us to adapt to our new realities. As dire as the situation is, humans genuinely have the opportunity to think creatively, and to imagine novel solutions to survival threats. One of such threats being the threat to our health, both mentally and physically.

In this article, we will share 7+ examples of how organisations are thinking outside the box and how you can use this information to stay safe. For ease of reading, the projects will be divided by location, with a bonus section on two tech giants.

On a global scale

Starting at the very top, Poynter Institute’s International Fact-checking Network (IFCN) recently launched a WhatsApp chatbot that puts the power of the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance at your fingertips, they said. The CoronaVirusFacts Alliance consists of more than 100 fact-checkers from 70+ countries across 43 languages and 16 time zones. Collectively, the consortium has published 4800+ fact-checks; sharing and translating the facts across their various platforms and on a designated web page.

It is this information that the chatbot relies upon to bring facts to you via a platform that is fast becoming the epicentre of false news. To use the bot, users can either save +1 (727) 2912606 as a contact number to their phonebook and text the word “hi.” Alternatively, they can click this link without saving the chatbot’s number.

Either way, you’ll see options to help you access fact-checks on a specific topic (local or international), learn more about fact-checking networks near you, or learn techniques to protect yourself from misinformation. Check this article for detailed information on how to use it.

Why it matters to you

Asides being the best source for answers to your questions about the novel coronavirus, the tool can help you to pre-empt false information before it becomes viral in your region. By randomly – and consistently – looking out for new information via the tool, you can notice patterns as well as identify fake news on other platforms. That way, you will not be too emotionally-riled up to act irrationally! 

Want to go even further? Spend some time with the database. Also, check out the Twitter list; the content is intriguing.

Spotlight: Africa

For the price of one, here are two organisations in Africa that are busy fact-checking viral posts on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and other news articles: Dubawa and AfricaCheck

Dubawa, our project, stayed on course by maintaining an archive of verified information, but also redesigned the webpage to accommodate the volume of coronavirus-related fact-checks. For easier access, you can find such fact-checks in one place.

On April 20, we also launched a “weekly newsletter on the ongoing infodemic”, distributed in the form of a weekly email and published on the website. The goal is to keep people informed about the latest news & updates on coronavirus-related developments in Nigeria. A typical edition is a mix of a research article; selected fact-checks from the previous week; answers to questions that Nigerians are asking in a Q & A format; our top picks of likely-to-be-false news which we (sadly) couldn’t fact-check, and other insightful tidbits. Until now, the newsletters generally went out fortnightly.

The project has also entered into partnerships with other organisations including the Coronavirus Alliance (mentioned earlier) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to reach more Nigerians with verified information.

Health research and data is at the heart of AfricaCheck, which launched a dedicated InfoFinder Covid-19 page in addition to their other pages. InfoFinder is a tool that displays all the facts on a topic (in this case, coronavirus) by region or theme. There’s also a page for “what others have fact-checked” which pools together useful resources from across the world.

Why it matters to you

Accurate information never gets old. Online archives will serve various purposes that transcend beyond the coronavirus season: a record of historical events as they happened, a resource base for future research and a go-to platform for acquiring current knowledge.

Joint fact-checking in Europe 

“In a crisis, there are two types of people: people who need help, and people who want to help”, says Coral founder, Andrew Losowsky. Sometimes, the people who want to help are a collection of news organisations in South-Eastern Europe who- set aside newsroom rivalry to- jointly promote media accountability, improve media literacy and fight disinformation in the region. 

Through SEE Check, the coalition will convene a series of webinars to talk about the most popular and harmful disinformation cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. They also analyse trends that indicate the common problems organisations face, necessitating a united cross-border response.

This initiative is similar to the online media festival hosted by Splice Newsroom, a digital media consultancy based in Singapore. The festival featured a series of 30-minute discussions with newsrooms in Asia and Europe about what they’ve been working on (you can find all those talks on their YouTube channel).

Why it matters to you

Many organisations have built their businesses around face-to-face meetings with staff or the general audience. By joining news webinars, you can gain insights on a particular topic and at the same time, learn what it will take to recreate in-person experiences online. 

If you’re interested in the news industry, check out detailed documentaries on hosting online events by two organisations: Splice Newsroom and Outride.rs.

Text messaging in the US

Getting fact-checks to more people in real-time is not just a problem of developing countries. In the United States, dozens of news organisations are using GroundSource and Subtext to address reader’s coronavirus questions through text messaging. Over 150,000 people have gotten text updates in recent weeks.

The use of text messaging in the US is not unprecedented: A recent M+R study noted that audiences for nonprofit text messaging grew by 26% in 2019. That growth came even as Facebook audiences grew by just 4% and email list sizes declined by 2%.

Both tools provide a platform for two-way communication with people. With built-in analytics, news organisations can monitor and listen to their audience via feed and exportable data. 

Why it matters to you

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is implementing a similar initiative in partnership with telecommunications companies in Nigeria. While watching out for those messages, it is crucial to appreciate the efforts that other key players in the news industry are making to keep you informed. With declining revenue, news organisations are paying high fees for services that bring news to your doorstep. Subscribe to the membership plans of news organisations or donate.

Product and policy updates by the big techies

The big technology companies have been rolling out changes to their platforms and doling out millions of dollars to support innovative initiatives that can help protect their audience this season. 

This month, Facebook announced the first 20 members of an oversight board – “a kind of independent Supreme Court to help the company rule on the deluge of moral, ethical, editorial, and legal challenges it was facing”, says Alan Rusbridger, one of the founding board members. The Board consists of a team of external experts who will moderate online content in light of Facebook’s content policies and freedom of expression. (If you’re interested to know how posts are moderated on the platform, read their policies and community standards)

In March, Facebook updated its data download tool to offer even more transparency to users in terms of why they’re seeing the ads that are showing up in their feeds. The Facebook-owned instant messaging service, Whatsapp also introduced a new limit on forwarding messages on its app and collaborated with the WHO to launch an information service that reached more than 10 million users within days. 

The company is also testing other new features to reduce misinformation about the virus on both WhatsApp and Messenger; like one that will enable its users to immediately search for additional context on a message via a Google search prompt in-stream. (Learn more about how Facebook is keeping people safe here and here or here

Similarly, Google’s Fact Check Explorer tool shows you multiple global fact-checks on the new coronavirus. (You’ll need to sign in via a Google account). This tool is in addition to its efforts aimed at blocking all ads that appear to capitalise on the pandemic while helping the World Health Organization (WHO) and other government authorities run public service announcement ads to educate the general public.

Apple and Google are also providing additional resources for developers (not users) working with the first version of their Exposure Notification API. The tool will make it easier for public health agencies to track and notify individuals of potential exposure to a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

More updates? The pandemic is also forcing other internet companies like Twitter and Google-owned YouTube to rethink their automated ad rules. YouTube just introduced its fact-check panels to searches in the United States, a feature that is almost identical to Facebook’s overlay feature. (Find out how it looks here. Also, learn more about how Google is keeping people safe here or here

Since Google recently revamped its ads policy, there’s been a significant decrease in the number of bad ads on the market, according to this report. During the next few months, it may be more important than ever to stay up to date with what’s happening on your primary social media platforms, especially since these new features may be so valuable to your business or for your safety.

Are you still wondering why it matters to you? Reread the entire article!

Coronavirus Q & A 

  • Can kids be infected with coronavirus?

Yes, the coronavirus affects both the young and old; children can contract and spread the virus as much as adults can with no significant gender difference. Therefore, the general hygiene rule also applies to them, especially washing of hands as they tend to play with different objects. (see how to encourage kids to wash their hands). However, they are less susceptible and have a low mortality rate when compared to adults. Check here for symptoms in kids.

  • Can you get coronavirus twice?

The fact that a patient has been infected and cleared of coronavirus does not rule out the possibility of him getting it again. Believing reports that grants immunity to these set of people are dangerous as the World Health Organization has said that no evidence recovered patients are immune. ‘There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.’ 

  • Can chloroquine be used to cure coronavirus?

Although health authorities approved chloroquine for Covid-19 clinical trials, there is no evidence to prove that the drug cures coronavirus. Health authorities have not established any drug to give 100 per cent relief of the virus; the World Health Organization has also addressed reports on the drug’s efficacy. Recall, Dubawa once revealed the cases of chloroquine abuse outside and within Nigeria.

  • Is there a coronavirus vaccine in Nigeria?

NO, there is none. According to PMNEWS, this was confirmed by WHO’s Immunisation Team Lead, Dr Fiona Braka, who emphasised that the World Health Organization has no available vaccines for the control of coronavirus. 

Tip of the week 

#FakeNews Alert 

There have been false attributions of death to COVID-19 in the past. Therefore, one should adequately verify such reports before sharing. Ask yourself, which credible news platform has published this?  

Picture claims can be misleading; many times, Dubawa has seen a single picture, telling different stories as it appears on various platforms. Get familiar with Google Reverse Images and TinEye; both tools help in identifying the source of an image. 

Questions to ask yourself: Who is the source? Is he credible? Have credible news platforms reported the news? Has the government addressed the issue? 

Be careful what you believe on news blogs. Recall, Dubawa checked a similar claim, saying 15 Senators had tested positive for covid-19. However, it was not true; in fact, no senator tested positive. 

Ebele Oputa is a frontline leader who helps organizations do new things or do existing things more efficiently. She has provided strategic, technical and programmatic oversight as well as editorial support of Dubawa since its inception. She is an experienced Programme Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry including the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Skilled in Negotiation, Training, Leadership, Project Management, and Strategic Communications, Ebele has a Master of Laws (LLM) focused on International Trade and Commercial Law from Durham University.

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