NOTE: This visit took place prior to the COVID-19 lockdown.
“Misinformation has real-world consequences. It can lead to people dying…. Far from being theoretical, misinformation causes real-world harm that we can directly measure and it seems to be increasing.” – Damaso Reyes
Damaso Reyes is an award-winning independent journalist with more than 20 years of domestic and international reporting experience and is a media literacy educator working with the News Literacy Project. This project is a nonpartisan, non-profit, education association that empowers educators to teach students the skills they need to become smart consumers of news and informed participants in our democracy.
For the Samoan leg of his program, March 5-6, Reyes shared with media and academics his vast understanding of disinformation and his knowledge of the power of media to disseminate accurate and reliable information. During his visit, he presented to members of the Samoa Alliance of Media Practitioners for Development (SAMPOD), an NGO comprised of all local media outlets. He spoke on different forms of media and fact-checking processes for information circulating on the web or through other media agencies (local and international). He also led a session for photojournalists on the tips & tricks of telling a story through photos. This session saw more than 20 private photographers and photojournalists from various media outlets attend.
The overall highlight of the program was the public seminar on media literacy he held at the National University of Samoa, attended by lecturers, heads of faculty departments and journalism students. During Reyes’ busy schedule he reached more than 200 people directly through his presentations. Many hundreds more saw the information he shared through follow-up stories in Samoan media. There’s no doubt he sparked an interest with the public on how to use information wisely and how to identify reliable sources.
In New Zealand, Reyes undertook a very busy schedule between March 9-13. In that time, he visited Manurewa High School, Western Springs College, and James Cook High School in Auckland, as well as Christchurch Girls High School in Christchurch, and Kapiti College outside of Wellington. At each school, he gave presentations on the dangers of misinformation and how to recognise it in social media. These presentations reached over 1200 students. At the tertiary level, he gave a lecture on journalism, law, and ethics for a class at Auckland University of Technology.
Reyes also provided professional development seminars for high school teachers at Northcote College, Christchurch Girls High School, and two at Kapiti College. A total of more than 60 teachers from surrounding areas attended the sessions and took what they had learned back to their classes and colleagues.
Throughout his presentation, Reyes talked about the different types of misinformation that exist – from misleading memes to doctored photos – and how misinformation often targets viewers’ emotions.
“Right now many of us of frightened: for ourselves, our families and our neighbors,” Reyes said. “Our altruism makes us want to share information we believe might help keep us safe like bogus cures for Coronavirus. Or we might read something that makes us angry and want to share our outrage, and by doing so we end up making the divisions that already exist in our society more stark.”
Reyes advised his audiences to take a step back before sharing information or memes online to consider the source, determine if there is any true evidence being presented, and to seek out neutral sources of information that use high standards for determining what they publish.
Reyes also shared these insights on TVNZ’s “Breakfast” program and gave interviews on Radio New Zealand’s “Nine to Noon” and at the University of Auckland with Professor Maria Armoudian, which can be found here. With elections coming up this year in both New Zealand and the United States, interviewers were eager to talk about the implications of disinformation on campaigns.
Reyes’ visit was a fantastic opportunity to spread the word on news literacy across Samoa and New Zealand. His talks were informative and well-received by students, teachers, and the general public. They were also well-timed in mid-March, as word of Covid-19 was starting to spread on social media. He was quick to use this as an example of how to separate genuine scientific news from social media false claims.
Some standards-based sources Reyes recommends:
AP Fact Check on Twitter
Factcheck.org on Twitter
Factcheck.org on Facebook
ProPublica on Twitter
AFP also has a website entirely dedicated to debunking Coronavirus myths.