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“Hoaxes spread like viruses, through the dearest people”

Hoaxes spread like viruses: through the most loved people, through social networks and messaging applications, which spread personal and erroneous interpretations about health issues. We are facing the pandemic of lies, the other great disease of today’s society”. This was stated yesterday by the Professor of Journalism at the University of Navarra and director of the “RRSSalud” research project Ramon Salaverriaduring the presentation of a study on disinformation in health.

The project has been carried out in the last two years by researchers from the University of Navarra and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, thanks to the support of the BBVA Foundation Grants for Scientific Research Teams program in the area of ​​Economy and Digital Society.

Science to be freer

At the event, which was held at the headquarters of the BBVA Foundation, in Madrid, he also took part Ignacio Lopez-Goñi -professor of microbiology at the University of Navarra, disseminating scientist and researcher of the group-, who stressed that “this pandemic has highlighted the importance of scientific dissemination, a necessary task that must be done responsibly, rigorously, clearly and transparently , to thus contribute to the scientific culture of people, which will make all citizens less manipulable, freer and, ultimately, we can live in a more democratic society”.

the journalists Patricia Fernandez de Lis and Coral Larrosa They completed the colloquium that took place after the presentation. The first, editor-in-chief of Science in the newspaper El País, and the second, a journalist specialized in science and health in the Telecinco news and vice president of the ANIS (National Association of Health Informants). Both highlighted the time spent during the pandemic to be well informed, contrast and turn to reference people and institutions to report as truthfully as possible.

Two years of investigation into false health information

The RRSSalud team has worked on this project from March 2020 to April 2022. In these two years, they have investigated the typology and dynamics of the dissemination of false health information on social networks in Spain during the first months of the pandemic . To do this, they have analyzed some 530 hoax verification articles published by the platforms Damn, Newtral and EFE Verify ?then the only three Spanish verification organizations that had obtained IFCN accreditation, the main international seal of quality for fact-checkers?, with the help of big data techniques implemented with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, the National Supercomputing Center.

In addition to the scientific production, which has resulted in at least five articles in scientific journals, the group has produced informative material, which is available on the website www.rrssalud.org: a practical guide called “Contagious Lies” that analyzes the questions and makes practical recommendations to citizens so as not to be fooled by hoaxes; a podcast channel and an “express test” that allows identifying the level of personal fragility in the face of disinformation.

The RRSSalud project has served as the basis for a larger-scale international investigation, IBERIFIER, granted to Professor Salaverría’s group by the European Commission in 2021 with a budget of 1.47 million euros. In IBERIFIER, the University of Navarra directs a consortium of 23 institutions from Spain and Portugal, including the BSC-CNS. Its purpose is “to explore to what extent disinformation also permeates the ecosystem of digital journalistic media, which in Spain currently reaches almost 3,000 titles, or if, on the contrary, these media function as dams or alarm systems against this disinformation” Salaverria explained. To achieve this goal, the researchers will apply artificial intelligence and big data methods.

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