#IJF19 Roundup: Health Misinformation, Verification Best Practices, Credibility Standards

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(This post was originally written for Meedan’s blog, currently hosted on Medium here)

Written by: Nat Gyenes, Tom Trewinnard, Dwight Knell, Wafaa Heikal

Year after year, we’re extremely honored to return to the International journalism festival in Perugia, Italy, learning from the incredible community and discovering new opportunities for collaboration.

This year, with so many amazing sessions to attend, the Meedan team focused on three key areas of contribution — health misinformation, verification, and credibility standards — and we’re excited to share a summary of it:

Health Misinformation

Over the last four years, organizations, activists, researchers and governments have been paying increasing attention to the spread of health misinformation online, building fields like digital epidemiology, health informatics, and inspiring verification and fact-checking efforts with unique methodologies to focus on health challenges.

The spread of health misinformation has specific implications for journalists, with different strategies needed to prepare for covering epidemics, novel approaches needed for newsrooms without dedicated health and science writers to discuss new and emerging health research, and new tools needed to ensure the right information gets to the right audiences.

Meedan’s Path project was introduced to the IJF community for the first time this year, where we dedicated both in a workshop and a panel to the topic. In Accessible Abstracts to Reduce Health Misinformation, Meedan’s Nat Gyenes focused on the difficulties that journalists face when trying to accurately communicate findings from new research, and highlighted the ease with which health misinformation can spread from scientific articles through various forms of media.

In our panel, Vaccinating Against Misinfodemics, presented in collaboration with Stanford Health Communication Initiative Director Seema Yasmin, we examined the role that the digital information ecosystem plays in propagating health misinformation — or information that is harmful to target audiences — and journalists’ role in spreading/counteracting this, highlighted how journalists can make sure to protect themselves when reporting about epidemics, and shared some insights from our own experiences in health journalism research and practice.

It was great to learn more about the fascination that the IJF community has in understanding how to effectively communicate about challenging health topics to wide audiences, the shared interest in the intersections between health and verification that are emerging in both private messaging apps and social media platforms, and to connect with a growing health informatics and journalism community. We look forward to sharing the Path project successes next year, and continuing to iterate upon existing best practices for reducing health misinformation and increasing access to quality content.

How to get involved:

  • There was great interest from participants in replicating the workshop in different contexts, so in the coming weeks Meedan will be sharing a workshop facilitation guide. Please subscribe to our Medium to stay in touch.
  • Participants were also interested in joining the Credibility Coalition’s health misinformation working group, and we will hold an information session on that in early May. If you’re reading this, and are curious about joining the working group as well, feel free to reach out to nat@meedan.com.

Verification Best Practices

Building on our 2018 experience of implementing projects around the world with Check, Meedan led and participated in various verification-focused panels, touching on deepfakes, video verification, private messaging apps, open source investigative practices in newsrooms, and anti-misinformation collaborations. Happily, verification was a major theme of this year’s IJF, and we were joined on the schedule by interesting and engaging panels led by colleagues and partners, including:

Preparing for the next wave: video fake news, with Hazel Baker

Journalism, fake news and disinformation: equipping journalism for the fightback, with Julie Posetti, Maria Ressa, Soma Basu and Inga Thordar

Prepare, don’t panic: dealing with deepfakes and other synthetic media, with Sam Gregory

Technology and automation in the fight against misinformation, with Jochen Spangenberg, Hazel Baker, Alexandre Alaphilippe and Guidow Buelow

Bonus points for innovation in programming for the excellent @Quiztime team of Julia Bayer and Tilman, who organized a brilliant hands-on session around their Quiztime initiative — a great way to practice your geolocation and verification skills!

We’ve been seeing verification and anti-disinformation initiatives seeing an even higher profile at IJF, emphasizing the growing importance of verification capacity in newsrooms, and flagging misinformation as a significant risk to global journalism. Our panels in Perugia looked at what is happening at the cutting edge of the fight against misinformation: how to deal with AI-generated, inexpensive, highly convincing fakes known as deepfakes; how journalists can find and address misinformation spread via private messaging apps such as WhatsApp; emergent tools for video analysis and verification; new models for anti-misinformation collaboration. We’re delighted to see the growing international interest in verification and anti-misinformation collaborations and look forward to working with industry colleagues to test new ideas and implement pioneering collaborations in 2019.


How to get involved:

  • Schedule a Check demo session here
  • Learn more about Pop Up Newsroom, Meedan’s collaboration with Dig Deeper Media, to bring design thinking methodologies to newsrooms.

Credibility Standards

The Credibility Coalition, an interdisciplinary community committed to improving our information ecosystems and media literacy, was fortunate to present its work and host a robust discussion on the concept of a “nutrition label for news” with other leaders in the field, including Joan Donovan of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, Natalie Turvey of the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) and Dan Gillmor of Arizona State University. While we owe much of our success to initial conversations at IJF, this was our first time to formally host a panel at IJF, and the festival proved to be a perfect place to expose CredCo’s mission and efforts to a global community.

After a terrific presentation by Natalie on a CJF study looking at the media consumption habits of Canadians, CredCo Program Lead Dwight Knell dove right in to give a comprehensive overview of CredCo, highlighting its mission, processes and results thus far. The panel then used the following questions as framing for its discussion:

  • Is quality information like quality nutrition?
  • Can we map the building blocks of useful information online without further censorship?
  • Is building a nutrition label for credible content a feasible concept for the future?
  • Can we agree on scientific and systematic ways to assess the credibility of information and whether they can be applied at scale?

Our goal was to start to get at the complexities around separating the credible from the questionable elements of a news post and to brainstorm how to express informational quality like a nutritional label. The actual label includes markers to differentiate fact from opinion, possible commercial or political influences, and a list of sources. As media researcher Matt Stempeck described it while studying this issue at the MIT Center for Civic Media, “…the goal is to make information about the news available to individuals who would like to benefit from it. The rollout of FDA nutrition labels on food packaging in 1990 in the United States did not force individuals to eat differently, but it did provide critical dietary information for those consumers who sought it.”

We think this model will prove useful in helping develop universal credibility standards as well as allowing the public to understand our work in a simpler way. At the same time, it avoids complete censorship or a polarizing value assessment of the content, letting opinions stand as opinions in context.


While there were differing opinions on the viability and scalability of the news nutrition label, we broached numerous other topics, including: how AI/ML platforms can’t necessarily perform the identical functions as human moderators; how we need to be mindful of both information quality and scale; how to train students — and the general public — to critically analyze news and information online; what sources are trustworthy; what’s wrong with content moderation on YouTube; and what a nutrition label might look like in Europe and elsewhere.

We were incredibly pleased to find great enthusiasm for both our panel and broader work in Perugia, and we are planning on parlaying this momentum into strengthening CredCo’s work in 2019 and beyond.

How to Get Involved:

Wee’re always looking for potential partners and community members. If you’re interested in working with us, please contact Dwight at dwight@meedan.com.