China earned 20 billion USD on Coronavirus”, “Chinese are converting to Islam as Muslim do not get this COVID-19”, “the Swedish government has stopped the fight against COVID19 as some Swedish scientists claim the virus is safe”, “Swimming, washing your nose with sodium chlorine, drinking water every 15 minutes, taking cocaine, vitamin C, alcohol, hot baths, garlic, bleach, cow urine, hot/cold climate, hand dryers, ultraviolet light… all help to prevent COVID-19[1]

This is the kind of fake news widely spread in Central Asia, and some of these stories worldwide, during the COVID-19 crisis. Fake news and misinformation was a major concern for citizens and democracies before the pandemic, but now the situation is becoming even more alarming and such false and misleading information is putting lives directly at risk.

As said by the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at a Munich Security conference on February 15: “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.” And if we don’t tackle this, he went on, “we are headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but to division and disharmony”[2].

Since January 2020, IREX Europe and its partners MSCF in Kyrgyzstan, MediaNet in Kazakhstan, MJDC in Uzbekistan and Public Association Gurdofarid in Tajikistan have been working to counter the influence of illegal hate speech and misinformation  through a new EU-funded project BRYCA “Building Resistance in Youth in Central Asia to the influence of illegal hate speech and misinformation online and on social media”.

The project will use an online “serious game” called Qlever, available on mobile phones and computers and targeting marginalized youth across Central Asia, helping build their resilience to fake news and misinformation. The game is being developed now and is scheduled for full launch at the beginning of the summer, but an important component of our work has started already: media monitoring for fake news and misinformation in each of our target countries.

Trained teams of specialists in each country are now monitoring more then 230 media, social media groups and blogs and influencers pages every week. They are tasked with identifying fake news and misinformation spread in both Russian and the four local languages of Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek and Tajik. Already the teams are identifying fake news on the COVID-19 pandemic. These false stories will be debunked and their content shown to be false on the projects partners online resources and information literacy tool Media Sabak.

This project is funded

by the European Union

 

[1] The review was prepared by MediaNet based on the publications on factcheck.kz, factcheck.kg, @threedotsca and infodemiya.tilda.ws.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/14/fake-news-about-covid-19-can-be-as-dangerous-as-the-virus