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  • Hugo: Hello. This is Fake News, Fact and Fiction from BBC

  • Learning English. I'm Hugo.

  • Sam: And I'm Sam.

  • Hugo: And as you see we're not in the studio today. Like in

  • many parts of the world we're practising social distancing

  • and working from home. How are you doing there, Sam?

  • Sam: I'm doing OK. Thank you Hugo, but it is definitely

  • a strange world that we're living in right now, isn't it?

  • And I don't know if you remember but in our first

  • programme we talked about stories going viral, so

  • spreading around the internet really quickly and well now,

  • what we have is a real virus that has gone viral.

  • Hugo: Indeed. And that is going to be the focus of today's

  • programme. This pandemic has seen a large amount of fake

  • news attached to it. And as we sit at home browsing the

  • internet we may have come across many different stories

  • and theories of the causes of the virus or possible cures. So

  • today we're looking at fake news in the era of Covid-19.

  • But before we get to that Sam, do you have some vocabulary for us?

  • Sam: Yes I do. So today I'm focusing on some useful

  • vocabulary you might use if you think that what you've seen

  • online is not true.

  • Red flags are often used as a warning sign. In fact in

  • Britain when motor cars were first used on the streets the

  • law said that you had to have someone walking in front of the

  • vehicle carrying a red flag to warn other road users. These

  • days if a piece of information or a social media post

  • 'raises a red flag' it means you are suspicious that it

  • might be fake news.

  • There are many red flags to watch out for. For example a

  • post that says something like 'the media doesn't want you to

  • know this' or maybe it's a meme or a quote that claims that a

  • politician you don't like has said or done something

  • terrible. These posts might be easy to share or they might

  • even say 'you must share this!' or 'share this if you agree'.

  • Those are some examples of red flags that could make you doubt

  • how true the information is.

  • We all like to share things and we all like it when things we

  • share are liked. But before you hit that share button it's a

  • good idea to fact-check the information the

  • verb fact-check, first used in the 1970s, simply means to

  • check the facts to confirm that the information is true.

  • There are quite a few fact- checking websites which can

  • help you to verify, prove, or debunk, disprove,

  • the information. Debunk, a verb from the 1920s, means to prove

  • or demonstrate that something is not true that it is

  • completely false. So fact- checking can help you to debunk

  • false claims made on social media.

  • Now you might be wondering, as there is a word debunk, is

  • there a word bunk? Well yes there is but it's not a verb

  • it's a noun. Bunk and also bunkum are words that mean

  • nonsense. Interestingly they are political in origin and

  • come from the county of Buncombe in the United States. This

  • county was represented by a politician who talked a lot

  • without saying anything important. So he talked bunkum.

  • Now back to the studio.

  • Hugo: Very interesting Sam, it certainly wasn't bunkum but

  • there was a piece of fake news there wasn't there? 'Back to

  • the studio'?

  • Sam: Yes, well spotted. I did record that section before I

  • knew that we would be filming from home for this episode so I

  • hope you will forgive me for that.

  • Hugo: Of course, now this pandemic has been dominating

  • the news for a long time now and there are many legitimate

  • areas of discussion to do with restrictions of movement,

  • testing, treatments and the economy.

  • Sam: But we've also seen a lot of different theories about the

  • virus which are not supported by any evidence but which many

  • people have still shared . Some of these are what are known as

  • conspiracy theories.

  • Hugo: And examples of conspiracy theories are that

  • the earth is flat or that the moon landings were fake and

  • even though these theories are comprehensively debunked some

  • people still strongly believe them. To find out more

  • about conspiracy theories we spoke to Professor Joe

  • Uscinski. He's an associate professor of political science

  • at the University of Miami and the author of the book

  • 'Conspiracy Theories, a Primer'. We asked him first to

  • define the term conspiracy theory and why people

  • believe them.

  • A conspiracy theory is an allegation or an idea that a

  • small group of powerful people are working in secret to effect

  • an event or circumstance in a way that benefits them and

  • harms the common good. And further this theory hasn't been

  • confirmed by the people we would look to to confirm such

  • events. There is nothing new about conspiracy theories and

  • you can find them if you look through almost any historical

  • document.

  • So for example the United States Declaration of

  • Independence has a few paragraphs about politics. But

  • then once you read beneath that, it's largely a

  • list of conspiracy theories about the king of England. So

  • they exist amongst all people at all times. They're very much

  • a human constant. People like to have their ideas make sense

  • when in combination with each other. So in order for someone

  • to adopt a conspiracy theory that theory has to match with

  • what they already believe.

  • So for example if you really like President Obama, you're

  • probably not going to think that he faked his birth

  • certificate to illegally become president. If you really like

  • President Bush, you're not going to buy the theory that he

  • blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11.

  • So people's conspiracy theories have to match their underlying

  • world views that they already carry with them so that's why

  • people's conspiracy theories tend to match their political

  • persuasion whether they're liberal or conservative and

  • they have to match their other world views too.

  • So for that reason it's actually more difficult to

  • convince people of conspiracy theories than you might think.

  • Hugo: So we only really buy into a conspiracy theory if

  • it's in line with what we already think about the world.

  • Sam: Yes and that ties in with a lot of the fake news research

  • doesn't it? So people will share things they believe to be

  • true or want to be true because the ideas match with their own

  • political or ideological views.

  • I'd also like to mention the phrase 'buy' or 'buy into'

  • which he and you Hugo just used. So these both mean to

  • believe or accept that something is true and you can

  • use the phrase 'I don't buy it' if you are not convinced that

  • something is true. So for example, I heard somewhere

  • that eating lemons can cure coronavirus but I don't buy it.

  • Hugo: Absolutely. Now let's take a trip around the world.

  • We spoke to a number of our BBC colleagues across the globe to

  • find out what kind of fake news and conspiracy theories related

  • to Covid-19 have been shared on different continents and

  • apologies in advance for the quality of the line in some cases

  • Here in Afghanistan at the beginning of the Covid-19

  • crisis a mullah in the west off the country, in Herat,

  • compared the number of fatalities in Muslim countries

  • with the number of deaths in Western countries and after

  • that said that these numbers showed us the Covid-19 and

  • coronavirus does not kill Muslims. But he was absolutely

  • wrong. Nowadays we see the number of deaths in Muslim

  • countries and here in Afghanistan is rising day by day.

  • We have received a video and some content with some links

  • to internet, to some documents and so on, saying that the

  • virus has been created by U.S. scientists who have helped

  • Chinese scientists in Wuhan.

  • But, less than two weeks later we have received another video

  • and other video in the same line, on the same topic

  • saying that the virus has been created by Chinese helped by

  • French scientists. But what was worse is that it's roughly the

  • same images. The same images that they're giving as evidence

  • of the of fraud. This shows clearly that it's a fake.

  • Here in Brazil there are a lot of messages on WhatsApp and

  • other social media showing photos and videos of people

  • opening up coffins in cemeteries and showing them

  • full of stones. And they use this to support the conspiracy

  • theory that people are like, increasing the number of deaths

  • artificially just to create problems to our president,

  • you know.

  • There are a lot of these messages with these images to

  • support this idea that this situation is created to, to

  • hurt him politically. But these images are from like a case two

  • years ago in a city in Sao Paulo state, in the country,

  • that was like, a fraud, to insurance you know, like two

  • years ago. So yeah this is one of the things that are

  • happening here because of the pandemic.

  • Here in Hong Kong. I've heard many theories and you can

  • always find the most confidential intelligence in my

  • mother's mobile phone. There was a time I received an urgent

  • call from her only to find that she started reading a WhatsApp

  • message to me that was about how the U.S. military smuggled

  • coronavirus to Wuhan in order to destroy China's fast growing

  • economy. Of course that was absolutely groundless. However

  • the message was circulated widely in her social circle.

  • They are patriots who tend to believe any conspiracy theories

  • targeted at the U.S. authority. So even if I could convince her

  • that the information was fake this time she would only send

  • me another one next time. It's just unstoppable.

  • Hugo: So we hear there some typical examples of fake news

  • such as real photographs being deliberately mis-described and

  • examples of the kind of belief in conspiracy theories

  • Professor Uscinski was talking about.

  • Sam: Yes and we hear that people want to share these

  • theories because they have a negative view of a particular

  • country and are happy to believe almost anything

  • negative they hear about them.

  • I'd also like to pick out a particular word that Billy Chan

  • used. He used the word 'groundless' to refer to

  • some claims. 'Groundless' means not based on any evidence.

  • There's no proof for it.

  • Hugo: So there we had some insights from around the world.

  • Let's look closer to home now we're joined by our BBC

  • colleague Marianna Spring. Thanks for being with us. So if

  • you can just explain the work you do here at the BBC first.

  • Marianna: Yes, so I am the specialist disinformation

  • reporter which means that me along with a team at BBC

  • Trending who are part of the World Service and BBC

  • Monitoring and BBC Reality Check. And so we investigate

  • misleading posts as well as looking to tell the stories of

  • the people who fight and spread misinformation across the world.

  • Hugo: So you must be really really busy. Is it your feeling

  • that from what you've seen that disinformation, conspiracy

  • theories about Covid-19 are very different around the world?

  • Marianna: I think this pandemic is particularly interesting because

  • most of the misleading stuff we've seen has actually been

  • incredibly global. So there was one particularly viral case

  • that we tracked, a list of dodgy medical myths and tips,

  • and it hopped from the Facebook page of a man in the U.K. to

  • Facebook groups for Catholics living in India to the

  • Instagram account of a Ghanaian television presenter. So this

  • stuff really goes global and is attributed to a range of

  • different people, to hospitals, professors doctors in the US,

  • in Africa in Europe.

  • There's no limit to to who it can be who is alleged to have

  • started or spread the rumour. However. I do think there are

  • also specific instances of conspiracy theories or

  • misleading information that are specific to certain countries.

  • In other places, for instance in the U.K. there's been a

  • conspiracy theory relating to 5G suggesting that 5G

  • technology could perhaps be linked to coronavirus and the

  • spread of it. Those claims are totally false. But I think

  • because here in the U.K. we've been talking lots about 5G

  • technology and how it will be rolled out they've felt relevant.

  • And then in other countries across the world there are

  • specific home remedies or suggestions, for instance in

  • China or Vietnam, which have caused harm to people because

  • they believed they would prevent or cure coronavirus.

  • Hugo: And how can we in the mainstream media help

  • particularly in a time when we're being attacked, we're not

  • always trusted by people?

  • Marianna: I think there are two crucial things that we can do

  • to cover this area for different audiences. The first

  • one is not just to show our answers but to show the

  • workings. So when we reveal that something is false or

  • misleading we don't just put that assertion out there. We

  • also show how we reach that point. We show how we

  • investigated a specific post or specific claims and why they're

  • untrue. And I think that's a really good way of letting

  • people into how we operate and actually gaining their trust.

  • And secondly I think it's crucial to educate audiences in

  • how they can both spot and stop misleading stuff spreading

  • online. So there are certain red flags that we look out for

  • when we see something online that makes me think "Oh that

  • looks a bit suspicious". One of them will be these

  • introductions I've mentioned where a friend's brother's