How can collective action counter misinformation during crisis?

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Photo: Internews

H2H organisations provided a deep-dive into the H2H Network's response to the Covid-19 info-demic at the HNPW forum 2022

During the pandemic, we have all seen that rumours have absolutely no respect for borders. To counter disinformation, it was really important for us to look at the rumours in multiple language groups as we were seeing that misinformation was morphing into different contexts and belief systems"- Irene Scott, Internews.

By March 2020, when the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the humanitarian sector was increasing globally, the H2H Network recognised the need for collective action and H2H member’s technical services. The network quickly activated its fund to enhance the response to the growing ‘info-demic’, one of the six priorities identified by WHO.

The H2H member organisations Internews, BBC Media Action, CLEAR Global, and Evidence Aid came together to share their experiences from the Covid 19 info-demic. The session explored the role the organisations played in supporting the wider humanitarian response community in tackling the challenges posed by misinformation and disinformation during crisis.

Irene Scott from Internews outlined that one role H2H organisations played was to train social media monitors to pick up on the rumour narratives in different language groups.

We looked for rumours that represented information gaps, misunderstanding of health and science, as well as rumours that were prejudice, harmed vulnerable groups, and rumours that were not kind", Irene explained.

Banna Khandokar Hasanul from BBC Media Action added the importance of information being "kind" to minimalize misinformation. Moreover, to counter disinformation during the pandemic, BBC Media Action promoted factchecking of information through different platforms; is it true, helpful and kind? This checklist was spread through different channels to at least 40 countries and only in India, 5 to 7 million people were listening to the audio content against disinformation.

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Photo: BBC Media Action

Furthermore, Claire Allen from Evidence Aid emphasised that to counter disinformation, joint working between scientists, media and other communicators was - and will always be – essential in any pandemic.

Science is always in competition with rubbish – but the rubbish is often more compelling than the science", Claire said.

She further explained that the Covid pandemic has been the biggest explosion in science literature ever, and even top scientists struggle to understand where the balance of good quality evidence lies. Therefore, Evidence Aid worked to engage stakeholders in a global conversation about how to use evidence in a pandemic – what is good quality information and what is not. In addition, the vast majority of scientific papers were published in English, in the UK and the US, she continued.

Ellie Kemp from CLEAR Global highlighted their efforts to fill this language gap, particularly by translating content into marginalised languages using simple language and avoiding technical terms. One of the key issues with information in the start of the pandemic was the strange "pandemic language" we started to use, Ellie said.

Covid was a foreign language for all of us. For example, social distancing was not in my vocabulary before 2020, a term that did not work in many languages as 'social' and 'distancing' are two different concepts. As another example, we found out that older women in the Rohingya community in Bangladesh didn't understand the word for pandemic. They typically understood it to mean diarrhea,” Ellie continued.

To support consistent use of more widely understood translations of key concepts, CLEAR Global developed a Covid-19 glossary of 185 relevant terms in 72 languages.

The session further explored lessons learned from the info-demic response to Covid-19. One of them was the importance of proper understanding of the communication ecosystem, and the information preferences and communications channels of the targeted community. In the Rohingya community, for example, people listened to the religious leaders, Banna from BBC Media Action explained. For this reason, they feature evidence-based messages to the Imams to effectively reach out with the correct information to the community. By communicating through already existing channels, we supported the community to be stronger and to be ready for the next crisis, Irene said.

Taken together, the session provided insights into the ways collective action can counter misinformation during crisis by staying on top of the science, supporting the evidence, working through already existing channels, using inclusive language and terminology, speaking to wider audiences, and promoting factchecking.

In the Covid-19 info-demic response, the importance of having a combined approach of organisations became particularly clear.

We all brought together all our different skills, which supported us in keeping on top of the science as well as responding to these rumours and misinformation" Irene Scott concluded.
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Photo: BBC Media Action