To correct the numerous fake news and rumors about the novel coronavirus from spreading, the Fact Before Rumors campaign was set up. It is led by the Institute of Basic Science (IBS) at KAIST, and the project became a collaborative effort with Ewha’s College of Nursing.
Ewha Voice interviewed Professor Cha Chi-young from College of Nursing, who is part of the team. Along with her, two more professors from the college, Kim Ok-soo and Shin Su-jin, are currently working on the project.
When asked why Cha participated in the Fact Before Rumors project, she explained it was to prevent health-related problems that fake news can cause for emerging.
Such false rumors have already resulted in numerous cluster infections and deaths. On March 16, a cluster infection was reported to have broken out at a church due to misleading information that salt-water can exterminate the virus.
Cha also mentioned a case of mass deaths in Iran that occurred on March 30. It was rumored that methanol could kill the virus. People drank the solution resulting methanol poisoning of thousands of people. With that, around 300 people faced death.
The Fact Before Rumors team reviewed 200 fake news items for their first post which was uploaded on March 24 as an infographic. The team classified the rumors in four categories based on the scope of the fake news’ dissemination.
For example, some rumors were spread mostly among Asia, including the one that said overlapping multiple low-quality masks can protect one against the virus.
Cha reported that health-related rumors which spread globally were chosen for analysis. Of these, the final 15 were presented on the first infographic. One of the rumors were on how fireworks could exterminate the virus. This was exempted because the team came to the conclusion that it was limited to Chinese culture, where fireworks hold special meaning for good fortune.
“We referenced trustworthy information to correct rumors such as studies about the virus, documents of the World Health Organization, Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its American counterpart,” Cha said.
The first post consisted of a true-and-false table of the 15 rumors. The table not only indicated whether the rumor was true or not but it also provided relevant facts. The written facts included clarification of the rumors that caused the recent cluster infection or deaths.
One of the facts mentioned was on how salt-water and vinegar both have low to no effect in exterminating the virus. It additionally noted that excluding hand sanitizers, other disinfectants should not be applied on the skin.
According to Cha, the next post will be an infographic that delivers accurate facts about COVID-19 infection and hand-washing.
Cha mentioned that numerous scientists from different countries are autonomously participating in the project due to the global attention to the virus.
The project is currently surveying 25 countries in 25 languages, and 20 scientists from 15 countries are working together. Cha believes the autonomous collaboration of scientists from diverse origins is the first meaningful result of the project.
The first post of the Fact Before Rumors campaign is currently offered in eight languages. Two more languages are forthcoming. Currently, the English, Portuguese and Vietnamese versions are available on the IBS webpage.
However, according to research from MIT, real news takes six times longer to be spread compared to fake news. To facilitate the spreading of facts, the team is considering multiple ways of distributing their posts.
Other than posting the results of their research on the IBS webpage, the Fact Before Rumors team is also utilizing various social media platforms to spread the news faster. For example, the first post has been uploaded on Twitter and Facebook through personal accounts of the researchers.
Lastly, Cha urged Ewha students to join the positive wave of fake news correction. She encouraged that students also spread the first post of the Fact Before Rumors campaign and additionally mentioned that they can be acknowledged as a contributor once they contact Cha.