We have started 2021 with projects related to disinformation and fact-checking, which we are excited to share with you in this edition of our newsletter. One of them was an online meetup where journalism students shared their fact-checking skills with seniors. This project has pioneered an approach to fact-checking messages targeting seniors that, as far as we know, hasn’t been tested anywhere. We also bring you some findings about the prevalence of conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Czechia. Last but not least, we have news on Press Start’s current crowdfunding campaigns, which focus on drug trafficking and domestic abuse.
Fact-Checking With Seniors
Transitions has been developing media education programs for older adults and senior citizens in the Czech Republic for three years. These projects take place online, in Czech, and are based on collaborations with journalists and community actors such as libraries, municipalities, and senior clubs. In February, we held an online event to teach seniors how to verify and fact-check information. Three journalism students, whom we trained in fact-checking and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and who understand the specifics of mentorship and senior education, engaged with a group of nine participants. Prior to the event, the senior participants shared materials such as chain emails that they wanted to fact-check during the training. Together, the group debunked a report of an alleged refugee camp being secretly built in Prague that had been circulating among seniors; they also learned how to look into country land registers and how to use Google reverse image search to fact-check a photograph.
The project represents a new step for us: for the first time, we ran an intergenerational fact-checking meetup to work with disinformation that hasn’t been debunked yet. We aim to establish this as a regular service among Czech seniors.
Study on Myths and Conspiracies About COVID-19
Roughly 40 percent of Czech Internet users believe in rumors and conspiracies related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the independent STEM Institute, which took place at the end of January and start of February. Funded by the British Embassy in the Czech Republic, the research used a representative sample of 1,400 respondents, and will be published in the near future. Most Czechs believe that the virus was artificially made in a laboratory and that the epidemic is being deliberately used to control society. Roughly 6 percent of Czech Internet users actively spread conspiracies and myths about the epidemic, either by email or on social networks. Disinformation, misinformation, and distrust of official statements translates into how people follow basic anti-epidemic measures. But only a very small proportion of respondents declare that they reject basic measures – such as wearing masks, and social distancing measures – as a form of protest.
New Campaigns from Press Start Are Live!
The Press Start team has been working on some exciting new crowdfunding campaigns for journalists working in repressive conditions in countries with little or no press freedom. The campaigns bring teams of journalists from different countries together to work on cross-border, collaborative stories, in a special project supported by the European Commission. The first crowdfunding campaign of the project, The Soviet Cocaine Union, is a story with all the makings of an exciting investigation: drug trafficking, leaked documents, crime, and a cover-up. A team of award-winning journalists from Romania and Bulgaria plan to investigate high-level corruption involving international drug trafficking networks.
For the second campaign of the project, Press Start is raising funds for two journalists who want to report on governmental and institutional responses to domestic abuse in Poland and Hungary, where such serious matters are often presented as something imaginary.
Visit the Press Start website and social media pages to find how to support these campaigns and please share far and wide.