The disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic crisis doesn’t seem to stop. And to make matters worse, the media doesn’t seem to be much more educated and able to stop the fake news spread in its track, despite the serious addressing by multiple experts and institutions about the matter over the last couple of years.
These last months, since the eruption of the coronavirus that became a pandemic and stranded the lives of billions of people around the world, the fake news ‘producers’ have exploited the situation with notable success for them.
But, the major problem with the articles that contain fake news seems to be the fact that the random media are continuously contributing to spread fake news. In order to understand this, we need to assess better the mechanisms behind the news sites, or portals, that are becoming the main tool in the fake news distribution chain.
In general – and we will analyze this thoroughly in another article – the media that uses only online websites to share their news are more prone to become the main distributive hand of false information. A lot of factors contribute to this, but we can say for sure that the lack of necessary resources to function normally, the lack of funds and the rush to pick up easy clicks are some of the conditions.
Let’s take for example one of the lastest slips of the media in the region, including in North Macedonia and Kosovo during the COVID-19 crisis to illustrate how the portals are helping the spread of disinformation. Of course, this does not mean that all the media using online tools to work engage in the same manner, but it does not take much to do great damage.
On Monday afternoon this week, an article appeared on the websites of some of the main online media in Kosovo, which said that Charles Lieber, a distinguished Harvard professor was arrested by United States authorities for ties to a Chinese lab in the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT).
“The United States of America has just identified the person that made and sold the coronavirus to China”, says the very first row of the article that was shared in a portal in Prishtina. The clock said 14:21, Monday April 6. By Friday morning, the article had been deleted.
Approximately an hour later on Monday, the same article with the same text, title, and main image appeared in the biggest circulating news site in Kosovo. Nine minutes later, the same text, title and image were shared by Kosovo public broadcaster online site (rtklive.com). These articles are still up online and can be easily found.
Further, the four-paragraph article says that federal agents were seen at the house of Lieber yesterday morning and that the professor was being accused of receiving 15,000 dollars a month from China and an additional 1.5 million dollars for the research done for the Chinese lab.
A simple search on the internet revealed that this article was first shared on other languages in other countries, and that apparently the Kosovo media had only translated and published it, without doing a simple check on Google to see if the elements on the publication were anywhere near the truth. The news was also shared, with minor changes, by some news sites in North Macedonia the same day, on April 6th.
Snopes, an online fact-checking publication in the U.S. had published an analysis related to fake news and conspiracy theories for the case of Charles Lieber months before the Kosovo media.
An article dating February 18, 2020 written by Dan Evon for Snopes, debunks the story and explains that ‘Lieber’s arrest had nothing to do with the coronavirus and that there is no proof whatsoever that the virus was produced or manufactured by anyone, in China or elsewhere.’
In fact, Lieber was arrested in January 2020 for misleading authorities about the money he allegedly received from the university in Wuhan and related to his connections to a recruitment program financed by the Chinese government.
This was a work of fake news in the most classic form. A true article was taken (Lieber’s arrest), its facts changed and altered to connect with some other worrying situation that would resonate with an uninformed reader (COVID-19), a conspiracy theory was quickly created and fake news articles deceived many people anywhere.