Does the current pandemic period raise an era of fatchecking that we all need to incorporate into our habits?
From 18 to 19 December in the city of Douala Cameroon, I attended a workshop on online fact checking. Actually my journey with factchecking does not start there since in 2019 around the same time I had already attended a training on the subject with the same organisation #DefyHateNow.
What is #DefyHateNow?
Funded from 2015 to 2018 by the ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (zivik) with means of the German Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt).The #defyhatenow initiative works on providing community-based and data-driven solutions to the problem of hate speech, disinformation and misinformation. Our work focuses on creating a framework for increasing trust between stakeholders through mobilizing civic action against all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence, including through disinformation created via the Covid-19 pandemic. #defyhatenow seeks to support the voices and actions of citizens working against online induced conflict within and outside affected regions by bringing youth, community leaders, grassroots organizations and further civil society stakeholders into a peace-oriented media and information literacy framework. Bridging gaps of knowledge and awareness of social media mechanisms between those with access to technology and those without, #defyhatenow is a growing network of online and offline peacebuilders. Cf www.defyhatenow.org
The organisation is based in 4 countries, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and our beloved country Cameroon.
Why in Cameroon?
You will have noticed that it is the only country in Central Africa that is French-speaking (although it is also English-speaking, at least on paper 😉 ).
In any case, #defyhatenow Cameroon exists to strengthen the voices and support the actions of civil society organisations mainly focused on youth, community and media to counter hate speech, conflict rhetoric and online directed incitement to violence in response to Cameroon’s ‘English-speaking crisis’. The project offers capacity building and media literacy training to enable community organisations and citizens, including people displaced by conflict, to become positive influencers with counter-actions, fact-checking and early response monitoring skills, peace building, as well as education and cultural activities in a rapidly changing social media landscape, rather than leaving this space open to agents of conflict. (Cf www.defyhatenow.org )
Why should we defy hate and now?
The possibilities offered by the Internet largely overshadow the resulting difficulties. Bearing this in mind, we must nevertheless address some of these issues, including the problem of hate speech online. But what exactly is hate speech on the Internet and how can it be effectively combated?
Although the Internet is nowadays not exempt from the law, the conception and application of legal measures against what is perceived as hate speech, especially on social networks, is nevertheless even more complex in our country, where these laws are not at all popularised because of their newness. This is why NGOs such as #Defyhatenow exist and propose social solutions that could be seen as complementary to any legal restrictions implemented by a state.
According to a UNESCO study, there are different methods adopted to combat hate speech on the Internet. The first is monitoring and analysis of hate speech by civil society. The second is the promotion by Internet users of counter-speech on a “peer-to-peer” basis. The third is a series of measures taken by NGOs in order to inform the authorities about certain cases, and the fourth is to promote actions by Internet providers hosting content, including hate speech. Finally, the fifth is structural: it is about enabling users to exercise their right to freedom of expression on the Internet by providing them with the necessary knowledge, including ethical knowledge and skills, through education and training. This is what UNESCO calls media literacy and information literacy.
The context of the corona virus pandemic has, in my opinion, made the need to fact-check information and combat hate speech, and more specifically stigmatisation, even more useful. The COVID-19 pandemic has become an unprecedented challenge for individuals and countries around the world, affecting not only the health of millions of people, but also changing the way we work, learn and socialise. It has also triggered a global infodemic of bad advice, unfounded medical information and sensational headlines as people try to make sense of ever-changing information, sometimes conflicting opinions from previously unknown experts and institutions, and a radically altered everyday landscape. The current crisis has also created new avenues for information campaigns by state actors that have already challenged the integrity of the global information system.
What should we learn from this journey?
More and more Internet users are using social networks as their main tools for keeping up to date, especially with current events. However, these platforms are particularly conducive to the propagation of false information and the ease of sharing makes their proliferation difficult to control.
While the spread of misinformation is sometimes the result of mistakes or misunderstandings, it is also often done intentionally, with the aim of harming individuals, creating a buzz or promoting a particular political agenda.
This is why Factchecking should not be a matter that concerns “a certain type of people” but should concern everyone. We must systematically integrate it into our habits before sharing information that we are not the direct source of.
Knowing the serious consequences of hate speech and the spread of false information, I invite you all to start the Factchecking journey too.