#SXSWCorona: Your opinion does not matter. Science, and facts do.

It’s been on my agenda for three years now: the battle against fake news. The level of dumbfuckery that is served daily on my personal interwebs channels gives me the flying scoobidoobidoo. It wants me to scream, yell, shake, and slap a good number of internauts into sense. Luckily for them that seems illegal in most countries, and still a bit difficult to do “the cyber way”.

Hanging out -safely social distanced, no worries- with some more social media aficionados and marketing and communication professionalsin a hot outskirt of the USA, one conversation point pops up immediately: the tsunami of fake, troubling, distorting and flat-out dangerous posts on the global pandemic, also known as COVID19, or -if you prefer- the Coronavirus.  Consensus is: something needs to be done about this. Question is: how?

Social vigilance

The fist step is not that difficult. Social vigilance. Don’t believe everything you read: analyse, think, verify. Is there a credited source? Multiple ones? Is it verifiable? Is it not already on one of the multiple good “factcheck sites”?  I copy a suggestion of good factcheckers below this post, verified by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). There are other good ones, send and I’ll add 😊. 

Seriously, don’t spread fake news. The truth is often complicated and hard enough.  Stuff that starts with “A good friend of mine, who is in the medical industry….” = nope, njet!  If you believe -without verifying- what uncharted friends of friends believe, I have a couple of nice bridges to sell you. 

Look for reliable sources and cross-examine them. That lowers the chances of spreading garbage.  Here are a couple of good sources on health and COVID19, as collected by the Harvard Medical School:

  • rely on experts who use well-accepted scientific analyses and publish their results in reputable medical journals
  • have a mission to inform and protect the public, such as the CDC and the WHO, which recently added a myth busters page to its information on 2019-nCoV
  • are not promoting or selling a product related to the information provided.
  • MedlinePlus, from the US National Library of Medicine
  • the UK’s National Health Service (and other national health services)
  • the US Food and Drug Administration
  • major news outlets with deep expertise in health reporting, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe’s STAT News.

Your opinion does NOT matter

Confucius, the famous French medieval enlightened philosopher (you might want to verify that one before spreading) notoriously said that “opinions are like assholes, everybody has one”. While that is absolutely and verifiably true (wait, it is not: one out of five thousand people is born without one! http://www.ucsfhealth.org/childrens/medical_services/surgical/minimal/conditions/ianus/signs.html ), that does not mean I want to listen to every single one…

Way too often attempts at adult conversations on the internet are slapped with references to “I’m intitled to my opinion” and “freedom of speech”. Let me spill this out for you: your opinion does not really matter. You have the absolute right to say that -in your opinion- the earth is flat, the moon landing was a hoax, God created the world in seven days, there is no climate change urgency, and Corona was invented by a political party to dethrone Trump. You have the right to that opinion (in which case I evoke my constitutional right to think you are an utter and hopeless moron), but that does not really MATTER in an adult conversation. It’s just verifiable WRONG.

Your right to think that 2+2=5 is just that, it stops there. You’re allowed to think whatever you want. That does not mean that your thinking is not WRONG. Your thinking that you have the right to drive 250 on the highway will end you up in jail, your 2+2=5 claim will make you -rightly so- the laughingstock of every fundamental school class.

Moral duty: debunk

It’s our duty, especially in these shaky times, to debunk. Point out facts. Point out idiocies and fake beliefs. It’s like AIDS, you are the last line of defence. Whether it is aliens, creationism, populism, flat earth, anti-vaxxers, reptile people, illuminati, refugees wanting to take over your world: it can and should stop with you. NO excuses. Debunk. Point out the flaws. Don’t take opinions for an answer. Your and my timeline will look so much better!

We might all put pressure on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and tuti quanti and nudge them into helping us to separate the wheat from the chaff. They have been running from that responsibility for too long. Yes, people can and should express opinions. Our social platforms -and news platforms- should put warnings on those opinions that are wrong, manipulative or misleading. That is not censorship, it’s common sense. Nothing debunks fake news harder and faster than facts, figures, and science.

COVID 19 debunked

No, it was not engineered in a Chinese lab; you cannot get rid of it by gurgling hot salty water; sniffing Cocaine will get you high, not cured; praying does not help; neither do tele-evangelists and preachers; it’s not “like the flu”; it does not stop at the border; you will not get it from your Alibaba Chinese package; being young will not save you from harm; you cannot vitamin C your way out of this; vegans have no lesser chance of contamination than the others; being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds without coughing is not a Corona-free indication; yes you should get the flu-vaccine but no, it will not help you against COVID19; you can get it in countries with temperatures above 27 degrees; and if you hope that spring will cure humanity forever you’re a mild form of an optimistic idiot.

You’re welcome.

Fact check sites

AllSides. While not a fact-checking site, AllSides curates stories from right, center and left-leaning media so that readers can easily compare how bias influences reporting on each topic. 

Fact Check. This nonpartisan, nonprofit project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by U.S. political players, including politicians, TV ads, debates, interviews and news releases.

Media Matters. This nonprofit and self-described liberal-leaning research center monitors and corrects conservative misinformation in the media.

NewsBusters. A project of the conservative Media Research Center, NewsBusters is focused on “documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias.”

Open Secrets. This nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit website run by the Center for Responsive Politics tracks how much and where candidates get their money.

Politifact. This Pulitzer Prize winning website rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials. Run by editors and reporters from the independent newspaper Tampa Bay Times, Politicfact features the Truth-O-Meter that rates statements as “True,” “Mostly True,” “Half True,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire.”

ProPublica. This independent, nonprofit newsroom has won several Pulitzer Prizes, including the 2016 Prize for Explanatory Reporting. ProPublica produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

Snopes. This independent, nonpartisan website run by professional researcher and writer David Mikkelson researches urban legends and other rumors. It is often the first to set the facts straight on wild fake news claims.

The Sunlight Foundation. This nonpartisan, nonprofit organization uses public policy data-based journalism to make politics more transparent and accountable.

Washington Post Fact Checker. Although the Washington Post has a left-center bias, its checks are excellent and sourced. The bias shows up because they fact check conservative claims more than liberal ones.

(with thanks to Wim Labie!)

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