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Friday, March 05, 2021

Research: From media campaigns to suppression, how countries addressed Covid infodemic

The researchers conducted a content analysis of international media coverage. Using keywords including “misinformation”, “disinformation” and “fake news”, they analysed hundreds of articles from February through May 2020.

By: Explained Desk |
Updated: February 4, 2021 11:02:44 am
People wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

As Covid-19 spread across the world, so did conspiracy theories and false information about the virus. Countries have taken various approaches to address misinformation about Covid-19. In a new article in the Journal of Public Health Policy, legal scholars at New York University School of Global Public Health and the global health organisation Vital Strategies identify five such approaches.

The researchers conducted a content analysis of international media coverage. Using keywords including “misinformation”, “disinformation” and “fake news”, they analysed hundreds of articles from February through May 2020.

The observed government actions, whether helpful or harmful, fell into five general categories:

* Disseminating and increasing access to accurate information. In Taiwan, for example, the government held daily press conferences, distributed newsletters, developed media campaigns, promoted the Taiwan FactCheck Center (which rapidly verifies or debunks online information), and created “mask maps” to show where masks were available.

* Addressing commercial fraud so consumers are not led to purchase ineffective or unsafe products related to Covid-19. In the US, federal agencies issued warning letters to companies selling fake products, and state attorneys general brought actions against companies for violating state consumer protection acts.

* Restricting access to accurate information by refusing to release information, or preventing communication by journalists, health officials, and whistleblowers. For example, Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who tried to warn fellow medical professionals about a novel virus, was silenced by authorities in Wuhan.

* Spreading misinformation or disinformation. In Madagascar, the President broadcast his support for an unproven herbal tea to cure Covid-19. US President Donald Trump was also a source of false information, suggesting that injecting disinfectant may kill the virus. “Disinformation spread by government officials is especially problematic because people generally expect governments to provide factual information,” the authors write.

* Criminalising expression through prosecuting citizens and journalists under new and existing laws. For instance, Iraq’s media regulator fined Reuters and suspended its license for reporting Covid-19 statistics in violation of its media broadcasting rules.

Source: New York University

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