Stop Press: Are platforms doing enough to check Covid-19 misinformation?
Stop Press

Stop Press: Are platforms doing enough to check Covid-19 misinformation?

A weekly newsletter to help you track the news media ecosystem and make sense of it.

By Chitranshu Tewari

Published on :

Welcome to the Stop Press by Chitranshu Tewari, a weekly newsletter to break down the trends, innovations and news on the media ecosystem. To get it in your inbox every Saturday, sign up here .

Lead

Did Bill Gates help spread coronavirus to further the use of vaccines? Do 5G towers make our bodies susceptible to coronavirus? Do masks activate the virus in the wearer?

You might think this is just a sample of the hoaxes and conspiracy theories that go viral, as they do, on WhatsApp. But what if I told you that these were the claims made by concerted campaigns, with videos that have been watched by millions of people?

Over a week ago, a 26-minute excerpt video from a documentary titled Plandemic went viral on social media channels. The video, replete with conspiracy theories and unscientific claims, had claims about how the virus spreads and how it was to profit off vaccines. It featured former researcher and anti-vaccine activist Judy Mikowitts proclaiming all sorts of medical disinformation — from calling masks harmful to how vaccines have made our bodies susceptible to coronavirus.

Facebook posts containing the keyword ‘Plandemic’ from April 8 to May 8, 2020.
Facebook posts containing the keyword ‘Plandemic’ from April 8 to May 8, 2020.

Image source: Erin Gallagher

The video, which made it to platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo, has now been removed. But not before it garnered over eight million views.

The fact that platforms have a misinformation issue is not news. Both Google and Facebook have been criticised for not having adequate mechanisms to curb false news and misinformation, and passing the buck on it. Just a few days ago, Facebook apologised for its role in the 2018 Sri Lanka unrest and anti-Muslim riots.

Mentions of a few conspiracy theories over the last one month.
Mentions of a few conspiracy theories over the last one month.

Image source: Axios

A pandemic has only amplified and laid bare the need for curbing misinformation by platforms.

How are the platforms responding?

Past scrutiny and a pandemic has certainly made the platforms act faster to flag and report misinformation. Twitter launched labels and warning messages on tweets with misleading information on Covid-19. TikTok put out a campaign called #MatKarForward with celebrities like Virat Kohli to curb Covid false news on its platform. Facebook now nudges users who have consumed false coronavirus content to go check the World Health Organisation’s website. YouTube also shows links to the WHO or the respective country’s health ministry website below videos, and has community guidelines and medical misinformation policies.

Is it enough?

The scale of misinformation online is huge. For instance, more than 40 percent of YouTube’s most watched content in English contains misinformation. It doesn’t help that the uncertainty linked to Covid-19 and our own lack of knowledge about it makes the pandemic ideal for misinformation.

You don’t need to follow or know enough about big tech to spot a familiarity between the platform responses. Cue the ”we are a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company” spiel. Platforms do not want to regulate content and want to limit it to flagging, deranking and nudging credible sources below such posts. That hardly does the job though. Even with so much media spotlight on the Plandemic video, it garnered eight million views and was active for weeks before it was taken down.

The mechanisms just fall short. For example, a disinformation survey done by Avaaz between January 21 and April 17 found that it takes Facebook up to 22 days to issue warning labels for coronavirus misinformation and that posts, despite being proven false, are still shared millions of times.

But why do platforms continue to fail to curb misinformation? Is it the algorithm, the fact that a lot of these flagged posts continue to be monetised, or is it about freedom of speech? That, in another Stop Press edition.

Layoffs

Media outlets continue to line up for layoffs and pay cuts in the wake of the economic impact of Covid-19. It’s not sparing the big names either. Quartz is laying off 80 employees, Financial Times is cutting its spending, the Economist and Conde Nast are laying off close to 100 employees. Vice wrote pink slips to 155 employees (about two-thirds overseas) and Buzzfeed shut its UK and Australian news operations.

The Vice CEO made it a point to call out platforms.

In the Guardian, Jane Martinson had this to say on Buzzfeed’s retreat: "Like many journalists, Peretti mistook the reach of his company’s content rather than its financial firepower as a marker of its scale."

Back in India, one of the biggest media houses joins the list, with layoffs in the Economic Times.

Homebrewed

Himachal Pradesh’s journalists face FIRs, harassment for reporting on government failures

Ayush Tiwari’s report on journalists in Himachal Pradesh who have been slapped with police cases and barred from ground reporting.

Gujarat editor booked for sedition after publishing story suggesting a 'change of guard' in the state

Delhi police summon Indian Express journalist for reporting on Tablighi Jamaat head's 'doctored' audio clip

The India Express stands by its story. While rebuttals are standard, can journalists be asked to reveal sources? Also, Rayan Naqash’s story on how summoning journalists to intimidate them is standard in Kashmir.

🎧 How is Northeast India handling the Covid-19 pandemic?

Snigdha Sharma spoke with Makepeace Sitlhou, an independent journalist based in Guwahati, Assam, and Ri Kynti Marwein, editor of Highland Post, a newspaper published in Shillong, Meghalaya, for the Reporters Without Orders podcast.

Chug it out

Atlantic has put out a special project about how conspiracy theories capture the American mind. It’s called Shadowland!

“When a News Article Vanishes, We Have More Than Just a Pandemic to Worry About”

A piece criticising the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak was published on the New Indian Express‘s website on May 8. Within a day, it vanished. Without any explanation.

📺 How Trump has berated, insulted and demeaned female reporters

Watching Trump speak the way he does with reporters at the White House never fails to shock you. The Guardian’s video shows some of those key past exchanges and how there is a pattern: hostility when he responds to questions by women.

📺 Is TV news dead?

A panel put together by Roli Books with Barkha Dutt, Faye D’Souza and Abhinandan Sekhri. It's a perceptive conversation on why the TV model is broken and the pitfalls in the current ecosystem. The panel has a lot of insight too: For instance, why will a brand that pulls its advertising from Breitbart or a Tucker Carlson show happily advertise on news programmes that peddle fake news and bigotry?

Catch up

New York Times redesigns and renames its morning newsletter

The erstwhile Morning Briefing is now The Morning and it has a subscriber base of more than 17 million subscribers! Learn more from the team who designed it.

If anything, Covid-19 has further strengthened the efficacy of newsletters in bringing readers and creating habit. Do you work in a newsroom which has recently started a newsletter? Hit me up on Twitter if you would like to share any insight.

The Hindu is India’s fastest growing English daily, fourth time in a row

This despite the fact that unlike other dailies like the Times of India, the Hindu has gradually increased its price — and not subsidised it — to capture a wider market for advertisers.

The Ken launched corporate subscription for its South East Asia edition

The Wire turned 5

Platforms

Microsoft is expanding its adoption of NewsGuard

LinkedIn editorial is now LinkedIn news

Facebook will pay $52 million in settlement with moderators who developed PTSD on the job

Apple’s plan for audio articles in its News Plus app

Resource and hacks

How the New York Times Live is adapting its events plans

Events is one of the major revenue streams for news publishers. Depending on the organisation’s burn rate, the money it brings often underwrites operations across quarters. With most event plans for 2020 scrapped, will online events make it up?

How do NPR correspondents report from home?

Part of this: a goldmine for how-tos

Bonus

All episodes of The Office are now playing out over Slack!

I pronounce Slack officially cool again.

***

This was the second edition of Stop Press, an effort that is primarily an exercise to learn more about the hows and why of the news ecosystem. For suggestions and feedback, do write to chitranshu@newslaundry.com.

Most media commentary and analysis is usually on editorial subjects, or cold numbers tracking the media industry. Product and the economics of the ecosystem are mostly missed out on. Stop Press aims to bridge that gap.

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