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Read this: Fighting the Covid infodemic

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Fighting the Covid infodemic…



BBC sounds music Radio podcasts from BBC Radio 4 hello special edition today because I teamed up with the BBC World Service programme world questions, if you've not heard it before it's where the public anywhere in the world reach with the help of partners to British Council questions to an expert and often political panel for them to debate and this month the program asked if we could join in because the topic is Miss information and the spread of fake news during the pandemic close to a heart on the media show there's been plenty of talk about an infodemic, but to what extent has a collapse in Trust for information hindered our response to the virus first let me introduce you to a very distinguished panel from New York by zeynep tufekci the techno sociologist who has written extensively about covid-19 and employed it both her and Alice

Pandemic and her work on the technology Giants also Willis is pickles senior director of public policy strategy and development at Twitter he's in Colorado USA from Android by Margaret Harris she is a spokeswoman for the world Health Organisation and has worked all over the world fighting pandemics including Ebola from here in the UK we are joined by Eliot Higgins the founder of bellingcat a independent international collective of researchers investigators and citizen journalist and it's good to see you as well welcome to your let's go straight to the first question this is Huey Park social worker in child protection from beautiful.

Lancashire is how much responsibility Media outlets accept for initially saying that this was an old people's disease that young people worldwide have never protected themselves.

Thinking that they are safe so did the media calls ageism and did that make the pandemic worse asking you who you're talking about when you say that the media said initially this was an old people disease all media reported.

It mainly being that this was something that would initially only people over 70 then it came down to people over 60 so it was many many months before Media particularly in the west started to talk about young people being affected by covid-19.

Thank you Julie Elliott Higgins from bellingcat to accept the premise of who is question and what do you think about broadly speaking what he calls the mainstream media about the medias performance initial weeks and months of the crisis and the messaging from coming from Media is changing every single day and I think that may have been informed by a sense of cautiousness about not wanting to feel like they're the ones.

Is rating the danger of what's happening but then again this comes down to an issue of trust and the trust in the information that you're getting and if that information is changing on a regular basis and it seems to contradict what you've heard you going to lose trust in those sources which you're using to find out what's happening and then you end up in this kind of death spiral where you looking for a reliable information, but the sources that you have been using who were the words of supposedly authoritative sources are changing all the time so you're losing faith in those sources and I think that becomes very dangerous.

Especially again when you have so many people who are coming looking for the Conspiracy behind the things now.

I've never really approaches the question of is the entire Media guilty of doing this but I think it was sunny a pattern that I was observing in those curly weeks of the prices.

So who is question is how much responsibility must immediately accept for initially say this was an old people's disease.

We were saying it to people that anyone could get it, but the ology did indicate that the people most likely to get the severe form.

So this is one of the everybody but the people most likely to get the severe form and most likely to die.

What order or had underlying condition, but I do remember continually trying to emphasize that the young person could get it could get because it did seem to be very early on it only it only affects and remember even saying that do not think this this is we are all in this and we all have to take it seriously going to say things that sound critical by this because I want us to do much better.

I think that a lot of things in a way that did not serve the public as well because there's a hard adjustments.

Right myself for sympathy we went from don't worry about it including the United States like the fluid affect old people maybe don't play by the kind of thing I sync in early on which was under playing it and then it's almost 1 the other way at times and I became like a young person shaving their kind of Swing to like their people are constantly to the station airing pictures of beaches and parks and young people to hang out outside as if that's like this major crises which is not either like either end of the spectrum is not correct and this is goes back to Elliott point about trust what I think we need going forward is to try to fund these seem public health agencies agencies like the world Health Organisation so they have the resources to be really quick and out there because these are used often trusting budgets to be on.

Amount of funding we give to the world Health Organisation is much less than what it deserves if they could be quicker.

I think they could get in front of the media and say that be that authoritative source because happens is media.

They go on social media they find an expert I find another expert.

They don't know what to say expertise is a very confusing which results in the public just throwing up their hands and saying I don't know what to do.

So I want to go back to like we need to counter this kind of stuff with the most authoritative sources on social media on top of it very quick so this confusion is better avoid.

What do you make it? It's just said I mean do you feel that you let down by the mainstream Media few yeah, I do agree that the conflicting information that people would given was very confusing because I think the media arguably would you quick inputting young people against?

The people so I think outside the remit of Colbert this broad a wider impact on society rather than bringing people together.

Thank you.

I might ask you to come in on our next question this is from Bob Paul he was a writer from charlottesville in the USA Bob take it away.

How can you put this information from a large part of my nation covid-19 is real that we've seen in patients dying on the Premium medical Personnel in Soho here, but thank you, but how can the common citizen people like Bob in charlottesville respond to miss information from a large part of a nation?

Deny covid-19 is really got your mention their patients are dying on their deathbeds screaming at first responders.

It's a hoax at below the anti vaxxers whose influence Bob says the most ignorant portions of the population do seem to be able to reach the public sphere Nicholls from Twitter Northants bobbing and sunny picking up on his questions and some some massive societal issues.

We seen that one of the big things that we have seen around the world during which is different political movements different political leaders taking very different approaches to covered and how that has shaped the national debate around whether it is a severe for young people for all people or indeed as Bob mentioned in some cases leaders still arguing that it isn't real the threats overblowing using phrases about the common flu and social media is one of the big challenges we have is that people ask us to remove content and if you remove content doesn't change anyone's mind it doesn't educate anybody and so I think that again is where finding credible sources find.

Information and there are whether it's a local health or agencies local weather is governors local government but a big challenge here is for example.

Look at Vaccines now you have 10 million successful cases one potential side effects and it's the one potential side effect that much of the online and media conversation happened about that is perspectives important.

What have you done at Twitter and how's your position on anti-vax content changed over the course of the pandemic months ago.

We people were sharing information and people would talk about specific theories not giving credence but people would talk about the world overlords.

Who are using covered for particular method Returns a year ago was allowed now.

It's not the removing content in.

Just makes people's news harden in other cases it restricts the debate it restricts the ability to inform and challenge a people who have ideas that are not accurate and our view was that during the pandemic home if people sharing that changed and such as that harm increases then we have a responsibility to take that content down and I think you've seen that across the covert space so for example to a huge question people saying you can go outside don't worry about seeing old people we would take that down because it was posing a risk and but if someone said you know I'm not wearing a mask in my own home.

We would allow that because that was them talking about their own house in India and home so try not allow that debate has been the biggest challenge but with much more aggressive than we were written about all the big technology companies.

How do you say Twitter forms specifically and also the rationale that Nick pickles from Twitter gives us for our Twitter stance on anti-vax content has changed.

I think there is

Amplifying terrible idea.

How do we win the Battle for ideas in the 50s and 60s you would have some guy usually a guy with the white coat on TV and say this is the science and uniformed good or bad that's all you got and I think I mean on the side of a ledington to bake play out not drive it underground and cats and independent collective of researchers investigated citizen Janice I know looking at work.

What time do I get the origin of some of these conspiracy theories anti-vax among them is your feeling that the energy companies were too slow on anti-vax content that they allow this kind of material under the stairs in the banner of free speech to be surface for too long.

I think for me kind of focusing on the social media company actually really misses the point of why this is happening in the first place.

It's because people lost their faith in traditional.

40b the government's the world Health Organisation prove it maybe so they go online and for alternative sources of authority people who are disgusting things.

They're interested in the word about coronavirus about the vaccine.

So they join a can of alternative health community were discussing those kind of things now.

That's not to say that people anti vaxxers or belief in conspiracy theories but an element of fact he does and you might drop be drawn into the element you now believes that actually Vaccines all bad not just coronavirus one then you might be part of our community and within that community these people think that The Vaccines actually have Bill Gates microchips in Southam and she might go drawings that community does that but what's happening? Is you become you stop being drawn into basically these kind of radicalised Communities and would you get certain point it doesn't matter how many clever social Media campaign to have how engage with them because they see you as the enemy favourite see themselves as heroes of Truth they see themselves as people really know what's going on.

And if we don't deal with that if we don't get people are kind of alternative place to go online then we can't be surprised when they end up in the source of Communities and I think that's a real question for society at the moment.

What about you a question from Charlotte what's your answer to a question which is what can you do that people hold these views centrally my view of this is a somewhere in 2017 president made a comment on the national Media and basically what he told the country was do not believe you.

There are a lot of people not only here in America but worldwide it listen to American metres.

He then person when on throughout the course of the Year trying to assure little doorway Twitter hope and this may be one of the reason why so many you were in disbelief covid-19.

And is a realtor ok, thank you very much indeed, but much appreciated.

Let's go to our next question, please.

This is from David Moreno who works in tourism and he's in Madrid in Spain day.

We could hi.

Thank you for having me this evening what doing the big of the first lockdown what is Chinese government taking pictures of an ice rink stone into more and Oxford in real pictures from instead of hospital in this cases.

Do you think censorship is practical or it just hit the monster of Conspiracy and if you never seen that David imagine if I tried to speak Spanish don't worry so your question is about censorship.

David it's about whether not censorship is Justified and whether it's practical or as you say if it just feed the monster of conspiracies and fake news.

I should I guess so.

Offensive many government is not just a Spanish government who would be against these sorts of pictures of what's going on inside morgues being shown lots and lots of people lots of governments and the country would not want that lots of Media organisations.

Would would not allowed to be shown on grounds of decency basically, but anything is from Penny cat what do you say to this idea that may be Justified with me and that feeding the monster of conspiracies most often if you have an image that is then removed from social media platforms or banned from the new sites that will absolutely feel conspiracy theorists love that kind of stuff table.

Talk about that for years.

If one single image is happening on a whole range of different topics where stuff is kind of taking offline or something to delete it and even if it's not an act of censorship reception that something has been removed will be enough to feel conspiracy theories and draw more people into it because then it does look like there is a cover up and you know what's more convincing of a cover-up happening than an actual cover.

Image Margaret Harris from the who0 there are you would chosen procedures or even the wearing of personal protective equipment if we have a picture that's not correct we won't use it so there are reasons for not using but also I agree with what about when you remove the thing when we've made an error or we found that language is the language as meaning that you're doing something very suspicious doing is actually trying to improve your work was at Twitter you must have in your calculations as to whether or not to take down certain content or stop certain content even ever been uploading the first place.

you must have reckoned with the fact that you would be accused of censorship was a trade-off in your mind as to whether it was worth going through the accusation what we certainly been accused of censorship and part of that biocide myself and been accused and tidy basically buy a people say that we make decisions for Political reasons and the reason we introduced labels was exactly to give us the ability to add more text to piece of content without removing and that that intervention allows us to give people a signal that says this images is not what you think it is it's perhaps older without remove and fuelling the exact cycle that we are Elliot others that wind the big challenge is it often and certainly have a covid-19 this the response from any public health agencies and governments in the circumstances the company's to remove the content rather than being proactive in the banking it and explaining to people why it's not happening and that is a big change that still hasn't happened in Jamaica

Do you think the too much is being asked of you social media companies know we have a huge responsibility to ensure people can find the credible information and to remove Hunt information now one of the big challenges received people leaving the mainstream platforms and going to smaller fringe platforms which they never in the hearings that I meant they're not in the government meetings that I meant and then offer not used by governments at all to communicate.

So when governments are thinking where we actually go to talk to people explain the risks of kovid the small platforms eat even in the government communication plans, so I didn't one of the at the big learning if you have to go where the people are and you have to be really proactive in that when one of these small flashpoints of photograph and narrative starts to take whole be very proud the banking and a few you look at sunlight 5G the endless list of things that 5G has been blamed for at this point is in itself a very powerful way of explaining that 5G might not be.

And actually unfortunately went over happened.

We wanted the signpost people to credible information explaining why 5G was safe and there was basically none at the point people to because governments themselves have never produce information, so we need more persuasion and more education much faster But contact moderation is not going to solve this problem allowed into the power of social media which takes to a next question now.

It is from Francis Rea wusu who is a court clerk in Kumasi in Ghana question was that social media sites to buy traditional media sites to do with Facebook and fairly obvious reasons and start with unit pickles Twitter how are you? Have a productive Media ecosystem is a massive challenge and I think it's important to say it's not just about the the biggest national Media it's about local Media it's about specialist Media

Interesting topics and we need an ecosystem that works for all of them Twitter slightly different in the most people use Twitter to share a link and then you do visit the the actual publishers website in the publisher can either ask you to subscribe I can show you advert so this is actually one of the big challenges to the open web going forward is that you know we shouldn't be creating more Walled Gardens where websites to stop people leaving we should enable you to move to incite so that's why they're at the debate in Australia and Elsewhere and has been happening, but I do think it's also important that we don't get to a situation where that we bring in essentially locks in the dominant media players and the dominant tech companies of today and becomes if anything and anti-competitive measure too small and new media organisations more tech companies who were actually emerging so we're not going to solve this with I think it's simple to link tacx.

I just be clear to those who didn't follow the Debate closely the argument in Australia between.

Australia's government and eventually Facebook but also Google was on whether or not news publishers should be paid by the technology platforms each time they linked to those news publishers and the Facebook was that they were creating value for news publishers that news publishers choose to be on their platform and that they already send a huge amount of traffic to those news publishers and indeed in some cases pay them, but it just to be clear what is Twitter's position on whether or not the Australian government was reasonable introducing that legislation about the Debate got a bit complicated the law was never actually passed these negotiations with ok Google what's happening before Law had been introduced Twitter wasn't part of those those negotiations because of our service is different than my Facebook and Google do introduce them, but I think one thing that it became very clear as that you know there are certain very large media companies today who see the legislation in Australia as a way of protecting their own dominance and the danger.

Kind of deals that happening now.

Is is that you take the big tech companies the big media companies they all do deals that aren't subject to what sort of public oversight or indeed legislative scrutiny, then they'll stay the big companies and we lock them in and that's a really big danger the question from Francis is whether or not social media sites should have to pay traditional Media for the content or the had the ad of the BBC's arm is so different now.

That's just been on bundle.

You can know you can get like your ADS are your other things through Facebook or Twitter so the thing that used to subsidize and pay for our news no longer pays for Amy's and it's the same thing like the other world is not coming back.

Can maybe Force Google or Twitter to pay murder, but that's really not a solution because that's a temporary freezing of the dominant players what we need to do is make the case and get people to realise that if you want high quality news it needs to be paid for that go to a final question this is from aurora who's an accountant in New Delhi and George's now prank a very good to see everyone ocean is around the bloodline that has been created between the open annotated reporting and reporting.

How do we make it more obvious so that you're able to eliminate the bias and the facts and the big question is how do we do that? How do we go about it great question Eliot Higgins let you rest of Genesis all about getting to the truth or like anything the facts criancas question is how can we eliminate the buyers from fats? Well? I think the present evidence and interesting in game.

Ways but there's Always Gonna Be An Audience for kind of opinion pieces of journalism people like reading that I like reading opinion piece sometimes.

It's funny, but I think partly it really comes down the time.

I'm going for me.

I've having a cuddle educated populace who understands you'll have mediaworks nowadays, it's particularly important.

I don't want to train to be a media studies student.

That's what I'm saying what I'm saying is that you need to have a look at this is a new teaching Civics because we absolutely in Gorleston Media nowadays, it's coming from every angles.

We carry a device around with ourselves where we can constantly being gauge with the media types haven't really just the way to society thinks about that and for a very early age.

We aren't really addressing the issues that that's raising.

I mean I think I've gone was saying that 50% of 10 year olds in the UK have smart metres really a terrified to cystic because it's like in with a Switchblade and he's really dangerous really big nonsense that's on the internet.

So why don't we actually look at away? How and gave you maybe not a 10-years old maybe?

18-year olds know this the student view for example is an organisation setting a pop-up newsrooms in the UK where students are taught how to do investigations, but it's not about turning them into investigator gel that also give them at the protection and understanding against misinformation and also against in of the way of confusing opinion for fact.

I think if we have don't do that especially this kind of on new online community new online societies then the situation where in now just gonna get worse and worse and worse because we undress me a line and the pessimistic Outlook property rooted in your in your in your solicitor.

Thank you very much Steve for that Margaret Harris from the who0 the question from Frankie's about how if at all we can eliminate the bias from factual reporting.

This is critical learning how to search for some support of somebody saying as

Main tourist I remember hearing academics the surgeon general how many people have repeated that line and made this a truth? That's not a truth.

I would also look at the sources that give you the media several opinions your hearing from people you don't agree with you've got a better chance of thanks coming when you're been given the opportunity to hear from all sides are your thoughts on your own question is it to me hope that we can eliminate bias from reporting.

I think what was pretty much resonated with me, but you also need to individuals accountable to validate something before they go on in Sherwood for the masses which is what did seem a lot happening a lot during this so that was a mediashow link up with the BBC world.

Programme world questions but different wasn't it? Hope you enjoyed it.

I want to say a big personal.

Thank you to the shows fantastic producers Helen town her and Charlie Taylor and to the British council and thanks to you for listening.

I'll be back at the same time.


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