Covid's other heroes: The myth-hunters who even receive death threats

If, on the one hand, there has never been so much and so much information available for free and free, as ever since we faced the Covid-19 pandemic, times have never been more fruitful in myths, conspiracy theories, fake news – several designations that in practice they can be reduced to a single word: lie. Doctors, scientists, teachers and science disseminators strive to stop the progress of this epidemic, which is spreading at the dizzying speed of social media sharing. In Portugal there are several projects of this nature, with different recipients, whether the general public, or especially directed to health professionals.

Inês Narciso, from Media Lab – Iscte

Inês Narciso, specialist in criminology, has been dedicated in recent years to this detective work that begins with the suspicion of a lie. Disinformation can circulate in the most different formats: Audio – think of the recordings that circulated on whatsapp at the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic, which allegedly reported serious problems in hospitals – in video – the viral of the moment is the Plandemic, in which we interview a pseudo-investigator – or in false news, as an example, the non-existent relationship between the use of a mask and a hypoxia crisis (lack of oxygen). Then comes the dismantling of the whole argument. “Often the verification has already been done at an international level, by Poynter (international network of fact-checking or fact verification), for example, since a good part of the topics are transnational”, explains the researcher from the communication study laboratory , Media Lab, from Iscte. When nothing is done yet, it is starting from scratch. Search for the source of the content, check if the image is true or if it has been manipulated and then explain step by step everything that has been done. “I always explain what the process was, the work is read by my colleagues and only then is it published. We are not owners of the truth ”, he stresses. An example of a photo manipulated to convey a false message is the one that circulated at the beginning of the pandemic that showed the bars in the Cais do Sodré area, in Lisbon, full.

Since Covid started, there has been an 800% increase in fact checking

Inês Narciso, Media-Lab

they feel excluded and start to invent things ”, says Inês,
as an explanation for this need to distort the truth. AND
subliminal message is always “distrust in
institutions ”, he adds. When you are in a world crisis, the
anxiety and fear make us more likely to believe without
check without doubting. Fear lets your guard down and there's a
need information that is sometimes not immediately
satisfied, as it is not yet available, which creates space for
the proliferation of lies.

This is not a
novelty of the Covid times, although it has grown tremendously
in this period of global abnormality, leading to a consequent
increase in dismantling initiatives. “Since Covid started,
there was an 800% increase in fact checking ”, notes Inês.

Doctors also need help

O is one of the new Portuguese projects, entirely dedicated to the hunt for myths from Covid. It results from a collaboration between the Media Lab, the Portuguese Psychoanalysis Society, Cenjor (Training Center for Journalists) and the Medical Evidence, a project that analyzes medical information, disseminating it in a newsletter and podcast, and has recently received funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. “The project was born from the realization that one of the major problems of the pandemic caused by the coronavirus is information and communication. On the one hand, there is a lack of information, dubious or incomplete information. On the other hand, there is a real infodemia of disinformation, with dangerous health consequences ”, notes Miguel Crespo, journalist and digital communication researcher at the Media Lab, Iscte. For some time now, doctor David Rodrigues, coordinator of the General and Family Medicine Unit at Hospital CUF Torres Vedras and professor at NOVA Medical School | Faculty of Medical Sciences of the NOVA University of Lisbon, dedicated itself to the task of clarifying peers, through the Evidentia Médica project, extending a work that has been perfected since graduation in Medicine, through the habit of fetching information from the source, that is, scientific articles. Because doctors also need help to find the best evidence.

Before, we analyzed one article a week. Now it's practically one a day

David Rodrigues

Doctor David Rodrigues launched Evidentia Medica, which offers analysis of scientific articles

In Covid's time, the path was complicated. “Before, we analyzed one article a week, now it's practically one per day”, says David Rodrigues. In the beginning, the target of the work was colleagues, but at this moment it is already sought by patients, journalists and the general public. All this research and reading of articles is made available free of charge, thanks to the partnership with the digital solutions company for doctors, UpHill, founded by two doctors. “We feel that there is an enormous need to inform doctors about the best evidence available and that is why our support for the project is done on a pro bono basis”, says the CEO of UpHill, Eduardo Freire Rodrigues.

very important concept in this issue of scientific evidence is
the notion that knowledge does not stop – even more at a time
where the best scientists in the world combine efforts to
understand a new organism, such as SARS-CoV-2. “To our
conclusion is always related to the date on which we analyzed the problem ”,
underlines Inês Narciso. A good example of this is the eternal question of
wearing masks, which is still not consensual and feeding
strong discussions. Despite this, no one has yet left for the
violence, as happened during the elections in which the group of
MediaLab even received death threats, says Inês. Is that at
Sometimes the truth can be inconvenient.

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