On this page, you can find excerpts of advice the Crisis and Transition Support Unit (CriT) has given to partner municipalities through videoconference or video. This advice is given in response to questions from partner municipalities.
- How to debunk fake news?
In Iraq, our partner subnational governments have underlined the problem of fake news in the context of COVID-19. People discuss the current situation online, whether it is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp or TikTok. Our partner subnational governments have asked VNG International for the best approach to debunk fake news.
From earlier experiences it is clear that there is not one, magic solution to debunk fake news. Besides, the effectivity of debunking rumours and fake news depends on cultural traits, the political culture and features of the local media. It is, however, an important topic, as trustworthiness of public institutions declines when fake or alternative stories get traction in the public discourse. When those stories get persistent, it might be hard for members of the public to distinguish scientific evidence and facts, from less reliable sources of information. This is why it is important to act the moment government hears about a story that is not only fake, but is potentially harmful for the people living in a municipality.
First of all, it is important for public institutions to actually know that fake and alternative news is forwarded from one person to another. Before providing facts to counter-attack myths and rumours, it is important to do some sort of (social) media monitoring, to understand what stories go around and whether or not they are widely spread among the public, or stay within a sub-group. Social media monitoring might well provide opportunities to effectively get in touch with stakeholders either online (directly) or offline (indirectly). In the indirect manner, communication professionals on behalf of government get in touch with important voices within a certain group (neighbourhood, school, mosque), to explain why the story is not based on facts. As such, trusted organizations that are internal to these communities are used as a vehicle to communicate on behalf of government.
The challenge during COVID-19 is to communicate uncertainty in a context where scientific evidence is absent or contradictory, and the authority of scientists in general is questioned. Before people encounter conspiracy theories, they should know that even though we live in times of uncertainty, the Duhok Governorate tries to be as transparent as possible. This includes being clear about the pros and cons of a certain decision and emphasising that the government is doing its upmost to keep track of and keep up with developments. Transparency goes hand-in-hand with asking the general public to be resilient, and help each other to filter fake news from truth. This can be done offline, but also online, where government asks the public to use the knowledge of the crowd to debunk persistent rumours which go around. From that perspective, it is not only necessary to emphasize that some news is fake, but also to clarify why it is fake. This can be done by the ministry of Public Health, by citizens, or both.
- Helpful lessons for reopening businesses.
The decision to reopen businesses is a tough one to make. Especially a decision on opening certain businesses while others need to stay closed, needs careful consideration. The outside world tends to follow the guidelines and hopes the government is guiding them in the right direction. That said, earlier experiences show that if the public judges that government exercise their authority via fair procedures, it will view the decisions as legitimate even when disagreeing with the outcome of the decision. This means that business owners who cannot reopen will understand the government’s decision, even when they disagree with the not being able to reopen. This asks for transparency in the decision-making process. It is therefore important for public leaders, such as the governor or mayor, to not only communicate the outcome of the decision-making process, but also explain why these measures are necessary. Without such an explanation, business owners and citizens might resist since they experience unfairness in the application of authority, which ultimately might result in alienation, defiance, and non-cooperation.