A recent text published by NiemanLab, the Harvard University journalism lab, discusses the role of newsrooms in unmasking false content about Covid-19. In the UK, cell phone towers have been attacked by people who believe that 5G connection networks spread the coronavirus.
For these people, there appears to be a link between Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease in China and a highly connected city, and the spread of the virus through these towers–an idea driven by celebrities on social media.
The task of dealing with fake content is not a simple one. According to the NiemanLab text, unmasking a rumor too early may give it oxygen, but doing it too late may be too late.
Thus, in times when conspiracy theories seek a culprit for the pandemic, it would take a collective effort by information outlets to demystify or unmask false content— "debunk" in English.
But what to do when the disinformation strategy does not involve clear fake news?
The debate over the use of hydroxychloroquine challenges the press because it is not strictly fake news - even though the topic gained prominence through the traditional trajectory of disseminating false content.
In this case, people who know nothing about the subject decided to take it on, following their convictions and objectives.
In this brew, there is everything: conspiracy theories (the medicine would have been confiscated so that people would not have access to it), someone wanting to gain an advantage (doctors would reserve the use for themselves, denying it to their patients), ignorance and not to mention the manipulation of a legitimate desire, a craving for healing.
Thus, a drug whose tests are still inconclusive has been turned into a lifeline by engaged groups that have politicized the issue quite effectively. "So, are you against or in favor of chloroquine?", Provoked a reader, mocking the demotion of the subject to a question of opinion.
The result is that the most prominent defender of chloroquine, President Jair Bolsonaro, managed to raise the topic to the most talked about topics not only on social media but also on the pages of the leading newspapers in Brazil.
The press tried to resist, but it was ruled again, filling its pages (especially Folha) with the formula of opposing "a text in favor" to "a text against."
An intense debate emerged in the newspaper about the drug between doctors and authorities, both in the news and in the opinion articles. Doctors asked for its release or for science to prevail in the debate around of the medicine. There were also anecdotal stories about people with the novel coronavirus who were saved or died after being treated with the drug.
How will the press get out of this? Only when the benefits of the drug are proven will the press be able to rest. Or only when people return to mentioning chloroquine only with treating malaria and lupus.
By then, we will have spent pages and pages with bits of information. But readers still want information, and Folha still wants clicks: three of Folha's ten most-read stories by last Wednesday afternoon (8) talked about chloroquine.
It is not up to the newspapers to unmask the chloroquine itself. The use of it in patients with coronavirus is a reality in hospitals and has been the subject of studies. But the false debate around it needs to be demystified.
A good start is to make it clear that the Ministry of Health has already said that doctors have the autonomy, followed by due accountability, to prescribe the medicine to the patient.
The media should better explain why the president is vested in sending the worker back to the streets when his obligation in a moment of unprecedented calamity is to offer resources so that this risk is at least mitigated. In addition to promoting a drug whose effectiveness has not yet been proven. Newspapers should stop abusing the words "against" and "for."
While chloroquine dominates the debate, it remains to be understood how long partial isolation will be needed, whether it will need to be strengthened, what plans to quarantine, why there are between 20,000 and 30,000 tests in the queue for results and what at this point would be a good testing program.
A Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon