Combating ‘fake news’ in the time of COVID-19 in Myanmar

StopFake.org - Wed, 03/25/2020 - 02:47
Travelers at Yangon International Airport walk past a Ministry of Health and Sports advisory billboard about COVID-19 on March 18, 2020 / Photo and caption by Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

Source: Global Voices

This edited article by Nan Lwin is from The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in China’s Hubei province, social media has spawned countless fake news stories and hoaxes in Myanmar, including promises of false cures that have caused panic among the public.

As a countermeasure, Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) formed a team in early January to give the public timely information about the global coronavirus pandemic, including the latest data and updates on the exact number of suspected cases and laboratory results, in collaboration with state and regional governments. The MOHS team also launched a website with videos about the virus as part of their effort to raise public awareness on how to stay safe—for both medical staff and the public—and also provide do’s and don’ts from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Irrawaddy spoke to MOHS Assistant Director Dr. Htoo Myint Swe, who is responsible for the public awareness information team, about the virus and how the ministry is providing information to the public and fighting fake news on social media and online platforms.

Nan Lwin: We have seen countless fake news stories, misinformation and disinformation on Facebook, especially about COVID-19. How does the MOHS work to fight fake news on online platforms?

Dr. Htoo Myint Swe: The most important thing is that when you hear a rumor, you must check the MOHS official website and Facebook page. When it comes to fighting fake news, our team has a responsibility to give the public real information. We have to act as a watchdog for all information related to COVID-19 on social media among Myanmar users.

Our team includes officials from the CDC [Myanmar National Center of Disease Control], public health and electronic health system officials, and other officers who are working to prevent and fight COVID-19. We also coordinate with other related departments to distinguish between real news and fake news.

We have to respond immediately, as soon as fake news has spread. Recently, everyone began to panic after a rumor spread on Facebook that one patient [in Myanmar] died of COVID-19. We had to respond immediately—it was totally fake news.

Many people have been sharing misinformation: that people need to drink hot water to prevent COVID-19 and also that eating ice cream could cause the disease. People think that those instructions came from UNICEF. So we had to discuss with officials from UNICEF in Myanmar and explain to the public that this is not right.

Now, we are also collaborating with the Ministry of Transport and Communications to track down people who are spreading fake news. We also share information with each other. Recently, our ministry also issued a warning that we will take action against people who spread fake news on social media.

NL: What kind of fake news stories have people been taking seriously?

HMS: We watch carefully and take it seriously, especially fake information that has caused serious panic. Recently, panic buying has started across Yangon after a fake voice recording circulated on Facebook. They used both a woman’s and a man’s voices, pretending to be government officials saying that there are many people infected with COVID-19 in Yangon. Moreover, we found out that many pages on social media are provoking panic buying and fear mongering among the public.

Recently, social media users are helping our work to fight fake news and our public awareness campaign. Thousands of social media users made a group and a network to serve as watchdogs for fake news on social media. They also report it to Facebook as soon as they see the fake news, misinformation or disinformation. We are also connected with that network to make our work more effective.

NL: How does Facebook’s Myanmar team collaborate with MOHS?

HMS: Facebook already has a function to report for controversial issues. When we find out about fake news, we report it to [Facebook] to check it carefully and to take it down. But they don’t take down every post that we report. They only take down posts when they don’t follow their community standards.

NL: Why is it important to fight fake news in the time of coronavirus?

HMS: It is very crucial to fight fake news in the time of coronavirus. A piece of fake news, a photo or a status could easily provoke the public to panic. We are all together during this critical time. We need to unify to fight together. Fake news could lead to instability in the country. The result will be bad for every citizen in this country.

I would like to advise all social media users to think carefully before they share something on Facebook. Recently, we found out that some websites have been sharing disinformation about the virus, like how many have died in Myanmar due to COVID-19. Many people are sharing it without knowing it is a clickbait website.

However, we are facing challenges in trying to take down those kinds of websites. Also, some users are sharing posts that mix factual and fake information. These posts come with the UNICEF logo to get more attention, so we have to check with UNICEF about which information is right or wrong. Then we still have to inform people about the truth.

I would like to advise people to believe the statements from the MOHS official website and Facebook. The WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a global pandemic. Even though we have no cases so far, we need to prepare to fight the disease together.

NL: Currently, Myanmar has tested nearly 150 people for possible virus infection. But Myanmar has not yet seen a single confirmed case of the coronavirus so far. Some people wonder if the virus is going undetected or the government is covering it up. What would you want to say to them, as an official from MOHS?

HMS: No, we don’t…. We are not covering up anything. This is absolutely not true. COVID-19 is not the kind of disease we could cover up. Nowadays, everyone has a phone and internet access. We could not hide anything. Now, everybody knows the latest formation as soon as we find out about a suspected patient in the country, including the [test] results. I would like to tell the public not to worry—we won’t be covering anything up. We will give timely and correct information to the public on everything related to COVID-19.

Written by The Irrawaddy

Categories: World News

The great phony: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fake quarantine letter

StopFake.org - Wed, 03/25/2020 - 02:33

By Polygraph

All across the Internet
“Read the classics. This is a quarantine letter by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was isolated in south of France in 1920 due to the Spanish influenza.”
Source: Twitter, March 20, 2020
False
The letter is fake, translated from a satirical piece

A Russian translation of the “Quarantine letter” purportedly written by renowned American author F. Scott Fitzgerald during the Spanish flu epidemic is making the rounds on social media, blogs, chats and media websites.

A fake F. Scott Fitzgerald quarantine latter translated into Russian language

The letter describes life under quarantine during the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 20th century. A portion that is being shared most enthusiastically and has made it into various memes:

“The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.”

FRANCIS SCOTT FITZGERALD

Fitzgerald, of course, is the author of “The Great Gatsby,” published in 1925 during the height of the U.S. prohibition era (1920-33). The novel’s characters drank heavily. Fitzgerald struggled with alcoholism throughout his adult life.

The letter is a fake.

The original version was written by the American Nick Fariella for the humor website McSweeneys.com and published on March 13. A note atop the piece reads: “This is a work of parody and is not an actual letter written by Fitzgerald.”

But don’t let a flat-out warning get in the way of the internet.

Yandex.ru, the Russian equivalent of Google, yields more than 2 million current results when searched for the Fitzgerald quarantine letter. A few are debunking stories, but most are postings that take Fariella’s satire as really having been written by Fitzgerald.

A screenshot of a Yandex.ru search for “F. Scott Fitzgerald quarantine letter”

On social media, “the letter” was for the most part shared as a simple screenshot of the text in Russian. A @Twoogel search returned hundreds of tweets with the shot.

User @stalingulag wrote on March 21: “Sure, people used to be able to sit through a quarantine. They stocked the proper supplies. And now? Canned meat, pasta, toilet paper. Such a degeneration!”

The tweet received more than 3,400 likes and 600-plus retweets as of March 22. Hundreds replied with images of their own impressive stockpiles of alcohol.

Вот умели раньше люди на карантине сидеть. Правильные запасы делали. А сейчас что? Тушёнка, макароны, туалетная бумага. Какая деградация! pic.twitter.com/XjTRdo7X0J

— Сталингулаг (@StalinGulag) March 21, 2020

Reuters’ fact-checker found the fake letter just as popular in the U.S.

“The text has been shared at least 2,800 times on Facebook and at least 1,355 times on Twitter as of March 19, 2020,” Reuters reported.

The Spanish flu of 1918-19 was the most severe pandemic in recent history, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). It infected a third of human population globally and killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

By Polygraph

Categories: World News

Figure of the week: 76 million

StopFake.org - Wed, 03/25/2020 - 02:20

By EU vs Disinfo

Advertisements for some of the best-known global brands are funding some of the most notorious disinformation sites in Europe – to the tune of US$76 million per year.

New research by the Global Disinformation Index has produced the findings, estimating that more than $76 million in ad revenues is inadvertently being spent annually on sites that spread disinformation by major corporations including Amazon Prime, Burger King, Mercedes Benz, Samsung, Spotify, and Volvo. Crucially, the placement of these ads is enabled by a number of equally prominent tech companies, with Google (Ad Services and DoubleClick) and Criteo leading the pack. These companies provide ads for each site based on each user’s online data footprint and geolocation.

The study found that Google provides ad services to 57% of the disinformation sites used in the sample, paying them 62% of the estimated total revenues – a whopping US$48 million annually. GDI highlights that Google’s market dominance with this problem in Europe “reflects its global role in serving ads to disinformation sites globally.” Second to Google, French ad tech company Criteo also serves up a significant portion of ads to European disinformation sites, providing 13% of them with ads that result in payments totalling US$13 million annually (17% of overall revenues).

In addition, other ad tech companies covered in the study include Amazon, Moneytizer, OpenX, Pubmatic, Revcontent, Rubicon Project, Taboola, Teads, The Trade Desk, Twitter, and Xandr. The share of each ad tech company’s advertising revenue and proportion of domains served is shown in the graph below. Five companies account for 97% of ad revenues paid to disinformation-spreading sites: Google, Criteo, OpenX, Taboola and Xandr. While precise estimates of online ad revenue are hard to make due to market opacity, GDI’s method focused on their lower bound, making these estimates conservative by comparison to other studies.

Source: Global Disinformation Index

As part of the research, GDI compiled a map of these brand name ads across various known disinformation sites in Europe. The list of domains used in the study – which totalled almost 1,400 – was collected from several independent fact-checking sources as well as scraped from public lists that track disinformation in Europe, including the EUvsDisinfo database.

The sample encompassed foreign news sites that are known for spreading disinformation in Europe – such as the language and country variations of Russia Today, Sputnik News, and Epoch Times, among others – as well as domains in several European countries. The research specifically profiled eight national case studies: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and Spain.

Based on its findings, GDI concludes that this widespread and indiscriminate placement of ads on disinformation sites is a violation of the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation, of which one goal is “to disrupt advertising and monetization incentives” for disinformation. GDI notes that Google as well as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) are signatories of the Code of Practice and have voluntarily committed themselves to its implementation. While IAB counts among its members several of the ad tech companies identified as serving ads on the disinformation sites, the WFA represents a wide range of advertisers and brands, including many found in the present study.

Accordingly, the implication of this research is that ad tech companies as well as brands themselves are either unaware of or unwilling to reduce advertising placed on sites whose activities harm public debates in open societies. More must be done both by the advertising industry and brands themselves to prevent the monetisation of disinformation and related harmful content that threatens to undermine European democratic processes, civic cohesion, and public health.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News