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03-07-2020

How COVID-19 brought misinformation to Ireland

Today, Christine Bohan of TheJournal.ie, Nicola Aitken of FullFact, Per Enerud of the Europe External Action Service and Billy Kelleher MEP examined how Covid-19 brought misinformation on a huge scale to Ireland for the first time. The webinar, chaired by Sinéad O'Carroll, editor of thejournal.ie, discussed the biggest false news stories and whether such disinformation is here to stay.

Over 100 people, from all walks of life, joined a very informative and diverse debate. Misinformation has proven to be a serious threat to our democracies, this has never been as evident as during this global pandemic in which in some cases it is proving lethal.

Billy Kelleher MEP, while discussing those responsible for spreading misinformation, said, "Instability is what they crave, and they will use any means available to them to destabilise our democracies. We have seen it time and time again – nefarious foreign actors using the digital space, and preying on people, to disrupt our democratic processes.

"The EU must stand firm, and stand united, against these foreign agents. Citizens also need to be empowered to see through their actions, and that happens through proper civic and digital education.

"My political group in the European Parliament, Renew Europe, is currently drafting its position on fake news and disinformation. We want to hear from people as to what they think needs to happen."

Thejournal.ie started their fact-checking initiative in 2016 and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, have been treating false news stories with a sense of urgency. This, according to Christine Bohan, Deputy Editor of thejournal.ie and head of thejournal.ie's fact checking initiative, is in order to debunk myths that can spread incredibly quickly through social media.

When asked about the volume of misinformation, Christine Bohan said: "The scale is interesting because it really felt like it exploded almost overnight. It’s hard to put exact numbers on it at all but, to give you an idea, we set up a phone number so that people could send us on any dodgy messages that they were sent on WhatsApp so we could fact-check and debunk them, and we got over 800 messages in the first weekend in mid-march."

Nicola Aitken,Policy Manager with Full Fact, an independent fact checking charity,pointed out the importance of not assuming that someone spreading misinformation has ulterior motives. She said that Full Fact's aim is that, through constructive engagement, spreaders of verifiably false information correct themselves.

Per Enerud, European External Action Service, concluded by saying that the question of misinformation is a complicated and ongoing one. He also said that a dialogue needs to take place at all levels of society, including commercial entities and individual civil actors.

The discussion was followed by a Q&A, but the biggest question of the day is still: has COVID-19 brought misinformation to Ireland permanently or is it a temporary trend? Time will tell, but one thing is certain: we all must play our part to counter misinformation.

 

The video recording is available on our YouTube channel here.

 

Did COVID-19 bring disinformation to Ireland?