A report was issued by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms “MADA” under the title “The Epidemic of Rumors and Fake News about Covid-19 on Social Media Sites” stressed the urgent need to pass the Access to Information Law, which will help to combat rumors and misleading news. Also, “MADA” demanded the government to pass the law after the end of the emergency period, which must be compatible with international standards.
The report highlighted the spread of rumors and false news on social media sites related to Covid-19, its symptoms and ways to prevent it, the extent of infections, and exploiting the public’s fear of the disease by providing prevention and treatment methods that are not supported by scientific and medical facts in order to reap economic profits or to increase the popularity of certain pages and accounts.
The report also discussed the spread of false news related to the virus in Palestine when the first infections appeared, which led to the confusion of the correct news with the false, which caused confusion among the citizens, and raised a state of fear and panic among them. Especially since the news was not published from official and unified and reliable sources (such as the Ministry of Health For example) at the beginning of the spread of the disease. At that time, some news pages on Facebook published false news about the numbers of people infected with the virus and announced the names of these people on social media.
Mousa Rimawi, Director General of “MADA” Center said that due to the seriousness of the rumors on the Palestinian society, the Center initiated a campaign on social media, especially Facebook, which is the platform shared by the largest percentage of Palestinian citizens, to fight the rumors about Corona on Thursday, 5/3/2020 under the slogan “Rumors about Corona are not freedom of expression”, on the same day that the Ministry of Health announced that 7 citizens were infected with the virus in the city of Bethlehem.
The launch of this campaign came after the extensive publishing of rumors and false news through social networking sites and some media outlets, about people living with Coronavirus in Palestine, and the confusion, fears, repercussions and risks involved in this matter that affect the community in its various institutions and circles and weaken its ability to optimize dealing with the spread of the disease. The campaign included publications and awareness videos for journalists and activists on social media and on the need to be accurate, especially with the news related to Corona, how to confirm news sources, and educate the public to the importance of obtaining information from primary and reliable sources (Link of campaign: https://www.madacenter.org/en/article/1288/ ).
Rimawi pointed out that the launch of the campaign contributed to motivating institutions, activists, groups on Facebook and other social media sites to do similar work to combat this phenomenon, and the center also called on a group of its active partners to contribute to this effort. “MADA” stressed the need to receive information from official Palestinian sources, and published a link of World Health Organization (WHO) to find out everything related to the epidemic from the competent international source, as we noticed a great increase in access to that page in the following days, as many local media responded to the campaign, which helped spread the campaign and reduce rumors.
Moreover, the report also highlighted the procedures of the government to reduce rumors and misleading news which included a daily press briefing (morning and evening) by the government spokesman, Mr. Ibrahim Melhem, with the participation of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh and with the participation of ministers in the government, especially the Minister of Health in the recent period and officials at the ministry, to announce the number of infections, the areas where the virus is spread, deaths, health cases of people infected with the virus, and announce the most prominent official decisions in this regard.
The report indicated the statistics related to this topic through news verification pages and sites such as PalKashif that checks the validity and reliability of the news circulated. During March – the first month of the spread of the Covid-19 in Palestine -, the page monitored a total of 122 misleading and inaccurate news and professional violations.; the page spotted 49 misleading content, 48 inaccurate content, and 25 professional violations, by official press websites, accounts, and user pages. In April, the page detected a total of 45 misleading and inaccurate content and professional violations by official press sites or user accounts and pages; it detected 19 misleading content, 23 inaccurate content, and 3 professional violations.
PalKashif also monitored the decrease in the percentage of misleading and inaccurate news about Covid-19 by 63% in April compared to the previous month, which coincided with the announcement of the first infected cases in Palestine, as a result of actions taken by the Palestinian government and some civil society institutions and the efforts of some Initiatives on social media to limit the spread of rumors, false and misleading information.