Infodemia of 2020. Is there truth online? An attempt to find it

author: Alexandrina Garuța  18-05-2020

Yesterday, we decided to voluntarily be vaccinated against the coronavirus and to take part in an experiment powered by Bill Gates and entirely sponsored by G.Soros. After months of eating garlic and drinking water with baking soda or bleach to protect ourselves from COVID-19, we have been chosen to host the first nano chip under the  skin. From now onward, we will be protected from the innovative” 5G technology discovered in Europe which causes harm. Now, we are sure that we will not get this coronavirus, created in the Chinese laboratories from the Wuhan province. We are safe.

While reading the statement, if you have recognized at least a couple of erroneous ideas, it most probably means that during the past months, you have been the target of fake news and disinformation campaigns. Since the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), a parallel propaganda infodemic” has started. It seems that the virus of manipulation mutates at an even higher rate, going viral through different channels: social media platforms, controlled TV channels, fake websites, and also, for my surprise, state-backed sources or official misleading communication.

You are still not convinced that these are fake news, aren't you? If you click on the statement that provoked your emotions, you will have access to sources that analyze, monitor, collect and debunk these media manipulation.

In Moldova, as the latest IMAS (Institute of Marketing, Analysis, Surveys and Investments IMAS INVEST SRL) survey on COVID-19 perception has shown, 58% of the respondents believe that fake news represents a problem for the entire country. The statistics are alarming by pointing out that 36% of the participants see fake news on a daily basis, while 29% even believed a fake news at first. However, don't worry, there is no reason for panic, this article is just a quick reminder for you to be vigilant, to stay fully aware of the on-going disinformation campaigns, and to always double-check all the information which comes in your field of vision.

From January to March, an incredible rise of more than 900% English language fact-checks have been depicted, as proven in a research made within the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism of the Oxford University. Being a Moldovan international student in Hungary, my experience towards the phenomenon of reality distortion resembles a roller coaster with extreme governmental positions. Going from the unfortunate interference of the Budapest administration in violently regulating the freedom of speech rights, which eroded irremediably the liberty of Hungarian media, to the intensive propagation of false data and manipulative statements via various media channels within the Moldovan society, I have found myself in a position of permanent seeking for objective and unbiased sources of information, being exposed to disinformation. being double exposed to disinformation. Disinformation campaigns rise above the local and even national levels. If initially I thought that it's a regional problem, now I acknowledge the global effect fake news has. It is just as a coronavirus, but no protective mechanisms accessible for all of us have yet been created.

My main concern is that the spread of false pieces of advice given by health experts or published on suspicious websites might negatively influence the general well-being level of both Moldovan and Hungarian people. As this free and attractive medical support is accessible to our grandparents and parents, who constitute the COVID-19 risk group, I feel that these misleading interpretations are causing more harm by unconsciously provoking them to disregard the WHO official rules and norms.

Personally, I believe that particularly troublesome is the process of demasking and debunking disinformation pieces, which in the end appear to be the result of the Russian Federation destabilization campaigns in the Republic of Moldova. Moreover, by exploiting weaknesses in regards to the instability of our political environment, the spread of fake news deepened the division within Moldovan society. Following the difficulty in managing the COVID-19 pandemic at a local level, by continuously belittling the European Union assistance, the financial help of the European states such as Romania, Poland, Sweden, France, etc., by neglecting the role of the neighborhood, and focusing exclusively on Russian and Chinese support, an artificial assumption of a delayed response and an irresponsible European attitude was created and highly popularized.

Overwhelmed by this conglomerate of ideas, worries and rising interests, I was delighted by the possibility to take part in a two-day online training course for Young European Ambassadors, delivered by leading EU Strategic Communication experts. Through interactive discussions, we absorbed the knowledge EU’s East Stratcom Task Force specialists were willing to share with us. Due to the proactive and selfless attitude of the fellow YEAs, the Zoom Conference room felt more like a vivid open space for rising questions and constructing common responses to the problems, we face together.

During the second part of the course, we have been challenged to apply the newly acquired skills by coming up with an entirely new media product. As for now, it seems a reasonable task, but what if I tell you that we had to do it in less than 24 hours? By researching and defining a current issue, deconstructing and debunking the significant narrative of the Russian macro-financial assistance for Moldova, creating the script and structuring a one minute video, our determined and united team succeeded in offering a qualitative product for watching. Thus, the #strongertogether slogan confirmed its powerful meaning beyond our already existing perceptions. 

The lockdown offered me the chance to re-discover the EUvsDisinfo project by having a glimpse of its internal fascinating laboratory during the training sessions. Also, I better acknowledged the deep significance of liberalism thought and pluralism of views, as catalysts of democracy. Despite the evident difficulty to deal with this multi-headed monstrous phenomenon, it is worth mentioning the effort put by local independent media platforms (Ziarul de Gardă, Moldova.org, Agora.md, etc.) and fact-checking projects: StopFals.md, Sic.md, Watchdog.md, etc. Moreover, the Association of Independent Press,  the Independent Journalism Center(IJC), together with other 33 fellow media organizations originating from Eastern Partnership countries launched a common call for media support, as a response to COVID-19 effects. Furthermore, the scandalous attacks of the Moldovan politicians toward media institutions and the blocked access to information of public interest, under the guise of the pandemic, which occurred during the last weeks, are especially regrettable and discouraging in the nowadays context.

The COVID-19 pandemic was followed by strong regulation aiming at flattening the curve. How about the infodemic”, you might wonder. How is it possible to maintain your integrity online and to stop the flow of conspiracy contamination? It's simple- think before you share. All the time you see any news or article which makes a strong appeal to your emotions, please double-check its validity. Make use of your critical thinking competences and media literacy superpower to analyse, check and reveal the truth. Remember, you might not have the desirable impact on a macro-level, but by each false information you abstain from sharing, you protect yourself and your loved ones. If this pandemic teaches us anything, I hope one of its lessons will be that we are the ones who construct the narrative! Take a step back and think if this is the story you want to live in.