By: Justin Chapman
The Pacific Council recently hosted a teleconference with Jeanne Bourgault and Ida Jooste of Internews, an organization that works to build healthy media and information environments where they are most needed. Bourgault and Jooste discussed how to combat disinformation and misinformation during a pandemic.
Here are key takeaways from the call:
- Bourgault said the public needs reliable, accurate information now more than ever, as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unfortunately, many people around the world do not have access to such information,” she said. On top of that, “the heated political rhetoric and rising hate speech around the world these days has created an ‘infodemic.’” The key, she added, is continuing to invest in “good, local, relevant information sources. It must reach people where they are. And we must fight disinformation.”
- Jooste said that with so many people under quarantine or lockdown, they spend an increasing amount of time on their smart phones and social media reading news and information. She pointed out that spreading misinformation can be either malicious or unintentional. “Pro-Kremlin media,” she cited as an example, “has been spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.” But “those spreading false hope can also be harmful.” People remember misinformation, so fact checking is critical during this time.
- “When fact checking, rather than repeating rumors, it’s important to just cover the story in an accurate way,” Bourgault said.
- Jooste pointed out that people tend to look for news that confirms what they already believe, but since this is a new virus, there isn’t a lot of existing information about it. The first information to come out often isn’t correct or needs to get updated later. Critical thinking skills are critical during a pandemic.
- Jooste also pointed out how hard it is to report on science because there is so much uncertainty and the topics are often complex and difficult to digest. She recommended sharing “news people can use,” such information that helps people cope during this pandemic and provides them with concrete actions they can take.
- Bourgault identified things people can do to help: support local media locally and globally, and be advocates for the importance of news and information as a public good. “We need journalists,” she said. “They’re essential first responders in a situation where trusted information can literally save lives. Information first responders are crushed by the economic impacts of COVID-19. We need to see a change in the perception of the importance of news as a public good. We need to treasure and invest in the media today before we lose it.”