On the 16th of December, 2021, the Journalism batch had a taste of what working in a real newsroom would be like. As part of the Online Journalism module, Kritika Goel, an experienced news fact checker, conducted the guest lecture on the whys and hows of dis/misinformation and fact-checking in India.
An Associate Editor and Fact Checker at The Quint, Kritika Goel leads the WebQoof team which busts dis/misinformation on a daily basis. She holds a graduate degree in Journalism from Amity University and a PG Diploma from the Asian College of Journalism in Broadcast Journalism. She has also worked as a content specialist for HT Media, as a news trainee for CNBC, and as an associate producer.
Ms. Goel dove straight into the session, starting off by differentiating between misinformation and disinformation. She further clarified concepts like malinformation and fake news, and emphasised that it’s critical to understand the difference between these words. Ms. Goel expanded by saying that misinformation entails false or inaccurate information shared by a person without the intent to deceive someone. To illustrate this, she gave the example of how people used to share information, often through unverified WhatsApp forwards at the beginning of the pandemic, about how drinking hot water would protect them from Coronavirus
Ms. Goel then broke down the reasons why people share misinformation and disinformation, confirmation bias being first on the list. She moved on to speak about how people tend to do this when creating narratives or while spreading propaganda. Incorrect information shared in these contexts, especially when coming from authority figures like politicians, or government officials, becomes extremely believable.
Misinformation and disinformation also spreads like wildfire in situations where there is a lack of verified information (like in Breaking News scenarios) and when there are economic benefits to sharing the wrong information.
Ms. Goel, then, went on to suggest a few ways in which consumers of news could be responsible and stop mis/disinformation as it is being shared. “Google is a fact checker’s best friend,” she said, as she urged the class to stop and verify news before sharing it, emphasising the importance of questioning the source of the information. She also mentioned checking how old the news is, as old news might be irrelevant and out of context of current happenings. Ms. Goel, then, asked the class to examine one’s intent behind sharing the news piece, and if it will benefit anyone.
Subsequently, the session became more practical, as Ms. Goel taught the class to use online extensions and reverse image searching to verify images and track their sources. She gave the class an image, and then a video, to scrutinise and fact check; which proved to be a challenging but exciting task for the budding journalists in the class. “It’s not always tools that come into use, it’s sometimes observation,” Ms. Goel said, as she told the class that videos don’t always need extensions to be verified— it can be done by just keen observation and clue-hunting to check if all the elements in the video are as they should be.
With this guest session and Ms. Goel’s informative and practical style, the students gained a lot of insight into what fact-checking entails and how this infrequently talked about side of journalism fits in with the rest of the news industry.