Many of the forces behind the flood of misinformation about the pandemic. They are a mix of ideological groups, con artists, state actors, 'rogue public relations' agents, conspiracy news networks, to students seeking attention or looking to earn a small fortune.
Research from the Oxford University Reuters Institute said nearly two-fifths of misinformation about Covid-19 contained completely false information. Another research conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute found that The Covid-19 disinformation produced by media supported by the Russian and Chinese governments has received more attention on social media rather than fact-based news from domestic media in Western Europe. This situation is taken very seriously by the World Health Organization (WHO) which states that this pandemic is also accompanied by a misinformation infodemic.
Misleading information about infectious diseases deliberately created and disseminated by a particular strategy can have dire consequences. Some of them are deaths from irresponsible behavior, fake or even poisonous drugs, and incitement that leads to such violence attacks on Muslim minorities in India.
GIJN interviewed 7 reporters and editors covering Covid-19 misinformation and found a uniform opinion that investigative journalists should focus on exposing the actors behind the misinformation rather than exposing the lies conveyed in the misinformation.
"We are responsible for exposing the people and groups that create and spread disinformation," said Craig Silverman, editor of BuzzFeed News. It provides a list of open source tools and plug-ins (open source) to help journalists sniff out misinformation hawkers.
The reporters noted that the joint response from fact-checking organizations around the world during 2020 had helped them catch up with the actors behind the misinformation. Corona Virus Fact-Checking Alliance (CoronaVirusFacts Alliance), 100 organizations led by the International Fact Checking Network, have uncovered more than 7000 hoaxes related to Covid-19 during 2020.
Meanwhile, The Forum on Information & Democracy has launched a working group and developing a policy-based response to the infodemic. As for research institutions such as non-profit coalitions First Draft trains reporters to master the techniques of verifying posts online and to report disinformation responsibly.
Aimee Rinehart, Deputy Director of First Draft stated that they also helped media editors to stop rumors related to the corona virus before it could go viral.
“In looking at the rumors online, we noticed the use of the same term and general hatred towards certain groups. However, the sweetener on this disinformation cake is the corona virus. " said Reinhart.
Unraveling the Kingdom of Disinformation
In June, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) - a civil society organization working on anti-extremism and collaborating with journalists - in the UK, published an investigation into an organization that has contributed significantly to Covid-19 disinformation. They found 496 domains linked to the right-wing network organization Natural News based in the United States. The main domain of this organization has actually been banned on various social media platforms including Facebook since June 2019.
The Natural News network has produced tons of misleading conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and the 5G tower. They also distributed a conspiracy video titled Plandemic which supports the false claim that this pandemic was premeditated.
"Despite being banned on Facebook in 2019 and banned again in 2020, Natural News and its affiliated domains are being used to spread disinformation on a variety of topics including Covid-19 and protests regarding George Floyd's death." Write the ISD report.
After the ban was enforced, researchers found 562,193 interactions on multiple posts related to the Natural News domain in less than 3 months in 2020.
“Attribution and tracking of the actors behind it are the missing pieces of a lot of work on disinformation. This is really the hardest part, ”said Chloe Colliver, head of the Digital Research Unit at ISD.
Colliver says CrowdTangle, Gephi, and Bellingcat's OSINT has proven the importance of investigating networks. ISD researchers also used Google Earth Pro to discover whether Natural News's online address actually referred to a location that served as their office.
One key clue that has emerged from this investigation that journalists can use is that some disinformation networks carefully divide their audiences based on ideological views. The audience is then directed to a site whose content matches their views.
Audiences interested in holistic health content and counter-possession of firearms, for example, will be directed to the .news domain site which contains misleading information about alternative medicine but without propaganda content about gun ownership rights.
Areas of Disinformation to Watch
Colliver calls “Black Public Relations” —a company hired to discredit individuals, institutions, and the media — an area that investigative editors will need to oversee the next few months.
“I think the“ Black PR ”market is still not thoroughly investigated. It is possible that they are the ones who do the dirty work of parties who intend to harm through the Covid-19 disinformation, "he continued.
Alexandre Capron, Journalist of The France 24 Observer, said that the 20-year-old hoax admin he interviewed forgot about the possibility that the 37 Covid-related content he created could harm readers. The student is blunt about his plans for disinformation as well as the strange purpose of the game.
“Our strategy is to spread this information to large groups. Our goal is to spread this news so that it really happens, ”he explained to Capron.
6 Tools to Identify the Actor Behind the Covid-19 Disinformation
- Hoaxy. This open source data can be used to visualize the spread of articles and uploads online, browse articles from less trusted sources, and estimate the accumulated number of shares shared over a certain time frame.
- CrowdTangle. This social media monitoring platform provides in-depth information and data about how content has been shared across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit.
- This tool is useful for creating a map of the social media landscape and finding relationships between domains. To describe the flow of misinformation in graphic format, tools Gephi can be used.
- To investigate fraud and disinformation against the backdrop of economic gain, tools such as com can be used to track suspicious advertisements and commercial activity between sites. For editors who have a larger investigation budget, Adbeat is a tool to extract information from these sites and provide useful intelligence behind the advertisements displayed.
- Created by online intelligence expert Henk van Ess, Whopostedwhat is a tool designed for public affairs investigators to perform keyword searches on Facebook. Equipped with a video verification tool InVID and CrowdTangle, this tool developed as a tool to track down the actors behind misleading social media posts.
- Use Google Search to find questions, not answers. Rinehart explains type in half of the questions on Google, such as "Why the federal government ...." then this tool will provide frequently searched questions and will provide information about what the public is currently suspecting, or not knowing, when consuming news. One of the most frequently used examples is the question in the top position on Google, "What is the European Union?" which was widely asked by citizens of the Greater Britanian day after the Brexit vote in Britain.
6 Techniques to Track Those Behind Disinformation
- Find the profile photo or the most recent background photo on suspected and under investigation social media pages. Then take a look at the 'likes' and related comments. Often times, the people close to the Page owner — or even the owner himself — are the first to like or respond to the first photo posted.
- There is little difference between the information displayed on the old and new Facebook designs, then switch between these two formats to see if there is any useful data or links that didn't appear before. Note the notes on the Facebook group page that contain a collection of consumer complaints on a product.
- When trying to contact Troller directly—And being aware of the motivation behind their actions-is very important to reveal your identity as a reporter. Some journalists have found that Trollers will agree to be interviewed to increase their popularity, not about their faulty content. “Don't lie about your intentions, but (trollers) love talking about their popularity,” noted Capron.
- Enter the 'About Us' content from the suspected site by enclosing the quotes, and browse if there are other sites using the same information. Use quotes for URLs and domains as well - as in "site: youtube.com".
- Recognize possible disinformation Mark all content, including emotional or extreme sentences and use an element of haste such as: "Read this important information before deleting Twitter." Also note the same structure for the newsfeed payload. Pay attention to sites that use the '.news' domain as disinformation networks sometimes use this for specific audiences with different ideological views (silo audience-pent).
- Avoid exaggerating the wrong message or imagery of an extremist being investigated. First Draft's Aimee Rinehart suggests reports of disinformation by conspiracy theorists like QAnon do not use the word QAnon in the title for up to three sentences beginning, to reduce the likelihood of trending. Silverman claims this information usually starts with the correct facts, followed by a careful explanation of a lie _ and verified facts are then repeated at the end to emphasize the truth in memory. they expect, "he said. (Rowan Philp, GIJN)
This article is an edit of an article entitled 6 Tools and 6 Techniques Reporters Can Use to Unmask the Actors behind COVID-19 Disinformation which was first published by Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN). Distribution of this paper is under license Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International. Jaring collaborates with GIJN to translate and publish regularly GIJN articles for capacity building of journalism in Indonesia