May 1, 2020 Coronavirus: A Way with Fact-checking the Health Information Flying around!

Coronavirus: A Way with Fact-checking the Health Information Flying around!

CROSS-CHECKING: Some men take the pains to verify some information displayed at a polling center during the 2019 presidential elections in Benin City. PHOTO; FRANCIS ODUPUTE

Please get me right! I didn’t say, away with fact-checking… I said, a way with fact-checking…!

It’s very important that you understand that from the very beginning of this write-up because, there are lots of damaging misinformation and disinformation flying around these “Corona days”.

As a journalist, an artist and a health communicator, I get terribly concerned that many people in my immediate community are being daily hospitalized and apparently dying, not because they are infected with the virus already but because of unnecessary panics and shocks incurred from unverified health information and fake news flying around, exacerbating a climate of fear and uncertainty already created around COVID-19 pandemic.

Fighting against health misinformation through fact-checking civic engagements is one of the keys to winning over the novel Coronavirus also known as “Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease 2019”: COVID-19.

Over the last weekend, my wife told me of a lady friend of hers in our neighborhood from whom she regularly buys food stuffs and special vegetables for our native soups. The woman told my wife she was recently admitted at the hospital and the doctor told her she had high blood pressure. When asked how come, the lady confessed to my wife that she had been thinking so many things after hearing all kinds of news about Coronavirus, when one day she suddenly felt her body behaving funny.

On another sad note, yesterday I visited one of my neigbours residing downstairs in our compound, on a scheduled appointment not unconnected with the lived streamed Global Day of Prayers against COVID-19 declared by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome (Nigeria) and Pastor Benny Hinn (USA) last week. On his table in the living room was a huge bunch of delicious looking cherry fruits. I requested to have some cherry and my host obliged.

I was ravenously munching one of the bitter-sweet cherry fruit, when my neighbor threw in an embarrassing teaser into our conversation – that he bought the cherry fruits when he heard some people say that it had been discovered that cherry fruits were very effective in preventing Coronavirus infection. “Haba!” I screamed surprisingly. “How did they know? Cherry fruits have been with us all this while and…how come it’s now a traditional cure for Coronavirus?” I queried my host. In defence, the young man told me he bought the cherry, anyway, for normal consumption since this was the season for the fruits, hence its abundance in the open market.

Prior to the incidence above, Mama Ese, another neighbor of mine, had called out to me through her window upstairs in a joking manner, saying “Papa Treasure, have you gone to write down your name yet? They said they are writing names of people and their bank accounts at a certain place in town, as the Edo State Government was paying N80, 000 into people’s accounts to cushion the effects of the Stay-at-home order by the government.” I simply laughed and responded in Pidgin English, “So you don go write your own name and account number?” She said she had not. “Why you never go na?” I probed further. “I no dey sure of the information” was her candid reply. Case closed.

Need I say it? The following day, I watched the Edo State Deputy Governor, Rt. (Hon.) Philip Shuaibu, on ITV evening news debunking some alleged fake news going viral that the State Government was paying some cash into peoples accounts because of the Coronavirus shutdown. That’s how far misinformation can go to affect society!

Information is power. In times like this, Nigerian citizens need accurate and helpful information to take the right actions and avoid unwarranted panics as well as to properly manage the tense situation we have all found ourselves on account of the rampaging coronavirus. But when we allow fifth columnists in our midst to take advantage of the gullible nature of most members of the public to perpetuate hoaxes, cause more chaos and health hazards through fake news, unverifiable health information and brazen propaganda, then more Nigerian citizens are bound to be exposed to worst health dangers than the coronavirus itself actually brings.

As those saddled with the responsibility of shaping public opinions, how may the Nigeria media and information managers rise to the occasion of fact-checking the myriad of information on coronavirus going viral, especially via social media, in a way that mitigate the climates of fear and panic currently holding sway among our people? How may we promote accurate and reliable health information, broaden civic engagement in the spirit of solution journalism, and win the global war against COVID-19 in a local context? What is the right way to ensure the information you receive and share about Coronavirus are all true and useful?

One Internews journalist puts it pointblank: “If I get one bit of information inaccurate it could cause the wrong kind of panic”.

Here are a few simple tips I gathered from experts which I believe any serious journalist/information manager can effectively deploy in helping to fight misinformation related to Coronavirus and other matters after the pandemic is gone. I am personally adapting some of these ideas and integrating them to a collaborative agenda with some multimedia partners and key stakeholders to contribute our quota in fighting fake news and health misinformation on COVID-19 through fact-checking multimedia civic engagements and to win the global war against the pandemic, especially here in Edo State.

*Be a professional skeptic:

 Barbara Gray, Associate Professor and Chief Librarian, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism says journalists should

Be Skeptical – it’s your job. Challenge your assumptions.

Keep good records (physical or electronic) of your reporting process and sources:

mKeep your reporter’s notes. Archive webpages & articles used as sources on Evernote or Wayback Machine. Keep a list of databases searched and search results used in reporting.

List all sources. List statistics used and where you found them, etc.

Write fast, fact check slow: These tips will get your brain into a fact-checking mode.

Get physical with your story! Print it out in a larger and a different font.

Gray wrote that to detect fake news, journalists must “be skeptical—verify before you share. Journalists assume they are wrong, and seek corroborating evidence.” She advised you create your own habit of fact checking as “it’s a civic survival skill and duty in a “post-truth” world. Misinformation and disinformation are being used as weapons, to “undermine trust, create divisions, and foment chaos,” in any society.

An ad campaign created by Mark Graham (CD), Art Director with Josh Tavlin (CD) and John McNeil (CD) for Brill’s Content: Skepticism is a Virtue and published by the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, reads: As a journalist skepticism is your job. As a citizen skepticism is a survival skill. Skepticism is a weapon. It deflects spin, propaganda, P.R, B.S., press agents, publicity seekers, hearsay, unnamed sources and anyone with a hidden agenda. Skepticism is a quality shared by truth seekers, freethinkers and realists. Skepticism demands that truth and facts be unsanitized, uncensored and unembellished. Skepticism makes the world accountable. Skepticism is a virtue.

*Demand Evidence:

I guess I am beginning really admire the biblical Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ. The Christian world has always dubbed him “doubting Thomas” but today, his story gives me a new light and a clear lesson in fact-checking – the need for verifiable proofs as essential ingredients for “your reasonable act of worship” (cf: Romans 12:1 and 2). Should you just accept any information hook, line and sinker, just because you know or trust the conveyor of the information? Isn’t it right and normal for you to demand some evidence? Even God in heaven expects only rational, voluntary and ‘reasonable act of worship’ from all human beings, and not a forced and unquestionable worship.

AfricaCheck, for instance, advices that whether you’re a journalist, an activist, a business leader, a health worker or a regular citizen, you can know when public figures [or anyone for that matter] tell the truth and when they distort it. The first thing they want you to ask is “Where is the evidence?”

When someone makes a claim, big or small, or shares any health information about Coronavirus cures,or preventive measures, etc. first ask yourself if the claim is plausible and worth investigating. Your next question should be, “Where is the evidence?”

“Ask for evidence, and if it isn’t provided you’ll know there is, or may be, a problem with the claim”. Visit: https://africacheck.org/how-to-fact-check/tips-and-advice/ for more.

*Investigate the Source:

According to Megan Cossey, “Go to the source, or else as close to the source as you can get.

If you can’t find a source, then delete! Take, for example, all these randomly wonderful and inspiring quotes flying around the Internet everyday … how many of these can you source to the original book, text, interview, whatever? If you can’t find the original interview or writing where Nelson Mandela famously proclaimed “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” it’s because he never said it nor wrote it.

“So do yourself a favor and when in doubt, delete! When it sounds too good to be true, and you can’t find an independent source, delete!”

Before you run with that news or health tips or new information on a new scientific or trado-medical discovery on cure/prevention for Coronavirus first ask yourself: Who says? What makes them an authoritative source for anything? Are they biased? Does the story only present one side of a debate?

Scrutinize the publication or piece of information; double check everything. Nothing is too small or insignificant to double check.

This is a sure way to go about fighting the spread of health misinformation as we battle the novel Coronavirus. So, as we all cooperate with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Federal Governments on the directives to stay at home, practice social distancing, self-isolation, hand washing and personal hygiene, remember that responsible information sharing on COVID-19 is key to winning the war against the pandemic.

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