What duties fall on journalists in the days of coronavirus?

26 Kasım 2020. The circulation of false information on health issues is now on the agenda again with the coronavirus pandemic. In the information age, due to people are both users and producers, false and misleading information is spreading rapidly. Nowadays, a lot of information that is spread by a so-called doctor, nurse, or someone works for the government is included in the circulation in social media networks, especially as an voice records and this creates a noise, but all that is needed in times of crisis is fact. In particularly, when it comes to health and medical news, information disorder created that can risk public health and undermine public trust. According to World Health Organisation infodemic is means that excessive amounts of information, some of which are true and some are false, make it difficult for people to find reliable resources and guides when they need it(WHO, 2020). In the pandemic process, while individuals have the task of noticing the wrong information as media and scientific literate, there are many duties for journalists and professional content producers. These are finding reliable sources, paying attention to the language of news, checking and reporting false news in social platforms etc.

First of all, it is substantial for journalists and personal content producers to understand the concept of information disorder in order to better understand their responsibilities in health news and especially in epidemic processes. There are three different types of information disorder: mis-, dis- and mal- information. Misinformation is unaware that it shares false information, disinformation is deliberate sharing of false and misleading information and purpose is to harm and the last one malinformation is intentionally to share genuine information that should remain confidential (Wardle & Derakhshan, 2017). These three different information disorders; satire, false connection, misleading, false, imposter, manipulated and fabricated content are exposed in daily life. At this point, it is worth remembering a few viral claims spread during the epidemic process. The claim that wild animal markets are open again in China has spread, but of course this was not true(, 2020). Another dramatic misrelation was the claim that pure alcohol protected from coronavirus as a result of this news, many people lost their lives(Sabah, 2020). As can be seen from the examples, people may not understand the fact and metaphor, the use of fake elements (photo, video and.) can change the meaning of the original content and creating a different perception. All this can cause a panic, and as a result of this panic, can have serious consequences. In health news, and especially in the epidemic process, society needs journalists with more reliable content and ethical understanding than ever before.

The source is one of the important steps that journalists and content producers should pay attention to them. If we think about our country, especially in the traditional media, many people whose opinions were consulted under the name of “expert” were exposed to unfounded information. Erik Anger claims that people who do not have the necessary knowledge and experience and training to process it should demonstrate epistemic humility. Its means that experts who do not have sufficient control of the subject should determine their own limits and give their opinions according to these limits. Morevover, it is essential to journalists should consult more than one expert on specific issue in this period of health crisis, where information flow is very intense. For this reason, journalists should be very sensitive and carefully selected when determining the experts on the subject they will prepare. On the other hand, it is necessary to be very careful about the data used in the prepared contents. According to a study by Reuters, 153 new reports on coronavirus have been published. The report focuses on the many of them have been shared on social media and the sources have been cited. However, these contents are both fast published and lack peer review(Kelland, 2020). To conclude, the content preapered by journalist and professional content producers should be directed to the right sources. According to First Draft; being the first in the World Health Organization, government departments and agencies, global and regional non-governmental organizations and lastly academic institutions should be chosen as reliable sources(2020). Thus, preventing people from unnecessarily panicking or receiving wrong policy desions. Another thing to emphasize is the use of language and visuals in health news. The public sphere created by media (Habermas, 1964). That’s why journalists and professional content producers should pay attention to the language they use in health news, especially during the outbreak of pandemic. When it comes to coronavirus specific issues, the content from the first day of the epidemic has included media targeting certain segments of the society with racist discourses. According to Karin Wahl-Jorgensen is a journalism proffessor’s research, he revealed that phrases such as “killer virus” or “deadly diseases” were frequently used in the news (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2020). Addionally, using sensational language can have unwanted results. As Prime Minister Hsein Loong rightly stated:” Fear can make us panic, or do things which make matters worse, like circulating rumours online, hoarding face masks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak.” (‘Is Covid-19 Stressing You Out Six Practical Ways To Keep Your Anxiety In Check’, 2020) Considering this point of view for both journalism and digital media, it is clear that people should avoid using headlines and exaggerations that create fear. When it comes back to visual contents selection and use, reframing or not and verifying process is meaningful for journalism ethics. In verification handbook, the verification process is more crucial than ever in a situation where misperception and fear pervade all sides(Handbook, 2015). There is a classic saying that a photograph is worth a thousand words and this really shows its right at some points. Journalists and professional content producers must verify the photos and videos they use or share in order to comply with the ethics of accuracy. Currently, people decide whether they will make a share in a very short time since people follow the news about the epidemic from their mobile phones and share them with their own echochambers. Therefore, it is not possible to see through the eye whether a content is manipulated or whether there is a misrelated content. Media professionals in particular need to check visiual content using a variety of verification techniques such as TinEye, RevEye’s, Puligin or InVid’s plugin. Actually, not only media professionals but also every user who shares content related to health and especially pandemic should do this.

Lastly, one of the points that should focus on health news and digital journalism ethics in the information age is the rumors spread online and the policies of social media platforms. As mentioned in the “How bad coronavirus info goes viral” podcast by the BBC, voice records, conspiracies and false claims are spreading very quickly in private groups. Also, this directly causes panic in the community. The first source of almost all rumor stories about coronavirus is unclear and when misinformation is dispersed in private groups, the difficulty of dealing with false information increases (Allegra Frank, 2020). Anonymously shared content is also featured on social media platforms after it starts to be shared in secret groups. Then, it attracts the attention of professional media and is communicated. In this circulation, if media professionals prepare news without checking the source and content, this rumor is misinformed by the public. After this happens, even if the media professional or organization that shares the content realizes that it is untruthful, it harms the public. It may even take time for the government and health institutions to explain the truth. From another point of view, social media platforms have policies to prevent information corruption in the pandemic days. WHO’s director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus drew attention to information disorder and said “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and is just as dangerous.” Let’s take a look at the new policies of major social media platforms in coronavirus process. Google started a “SOS Alert” to people searching for coronavirus and directing users to WHO sources (‘Google issues coronavirus “SOS Alert” in Search, here’s what that means’, 2020). The content that may cause physical harm related to false illness prevention or treatment methods about coronavirus is removed by Facebook and Instagram. For this, the company works with fact-checking organizations. Also, Instagram removes the illnesses found to be used to spread false information((Porter, 2020). In TikTok application, there are many false news videos about coronavirus. Although the WHO organization uses this platform to inform users, the company still has not been able to find a functional solution. To sum up, both disease and false information are spreading where people are, and the policies pursued by social media platforms are just a question mark how much it is enough to protect it from infodemic.

When everything is taken into consideration, there are many ethical behaviors that media professionals should pay attention to when preparing health news. The fact that a rumor is viral does not mean it is correct, or not all the information that the echo chamber and filter bubble reveal to you is certain. They should be questionable of all content in health issue and access the main source of information. On the other hand, it should carefully select the resources and experts it publishes to its readers. It should not be forgotten that false assumptions, data, wrong experts, and if not correctly correlated, panic increases among the public and vital consequences can be caused so every health news should be prepared meticulously.

REFERENCES Allegra Frank, D. M. (2020). Coronavirus rumors can thrive in group chats on Facebook, WhatsApp, and texting apps- Vox. Retrieved from

Draft. (2020). Coronavirus_ Information sources – First Draft. Retrieved from Google issues coronavirus ‘SOS Alert’ in Search, here’s what that means. (2020). Retrieved from

Habermas. (1964). The Public Sphere : An Encyclopedia Article (Vol. 3, pp. 49–55). Handbook, V. (2015). Verification Hanbook. Is Covid-19 Stressing You Out Six Practical Ways To Keep Your Anxiety In Check. (2020). Retrieved from

Kelland, K. (2020). Speed science: the risks of swiftly spreading coronavirus research. Reuters. Retrieved from

Porter, J. (2020). Facebook and Instagram to remove coronavirus misinformation – The Verge. Retrieved from Sabah, D. (2020). 30 die after drinking pure alcohol to ward off coronavirus in Istanbul, 20 more hospitalized. (2020). Çin’de vahşi hayvan pazarları yeniden mi açıldı?

Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2020). Feeling panicked about coronavirus_ Media coverage of new epidemics often stokes unnecessary fear » Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved from

Wardle, C., & Derakhshan, H. (2017). Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making. Report to the Council of Europe, 108. Retrieved from

WHO. (2020). Novel Coronavirus ( 2019-nCoV ). WHO Bulletin, (JANUARY), 1–7

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