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Bolivia Protests Become the Perfect Stage for Misinformation

helicopter Credit: OnlyGFX.com

News Analysis by Vanessa Lucero and Gabrielle Polsinelli

In the midst of political protests, road blockages, and deadly conflict in Bolivia, raw information, misinformation and disinformation are all spreading rapidly across social media platforms. Thankfully, two relatively new fact-checking teams at ChequeaBolivia and Bolivia Verifica are helping the public determine what is real news and what is fake.

In Poynter’s story, “Crisis in Bolivia: One month of false news and at least 15 dead people,” Cristina Tardáguila describes the important role fact checkers are playing during this conflict. After voters suspected former president Evo Morales of rigging the recent election to win a fourth term, protests broke out in La Paz and other Bolivian cities. Political unrest became so intense that even two members of the Superior Electoral Court were arrested. With tensions high, false information spread rapidly online. Although journalists like Gabriela Weiss cannot get to their newsrooms, they are working from home to distinguish propaganda and hoaxes from real news. For instance, ChequeaBolivia debunked video footage with a CNN logo of a helicopter shooting at civilian homes. That video was actually from an unrelated event in 2017. Another fact checker, Bolivia Verifica, debunked claims that death tolls from the conflict were not recorded by publishing the actual death toll as a result of the conflict since Oct. 21 from Bolivia’s Documentation and Information Center.

Takeaway: Fact checkers can help defuse a conflict by debunking online misinformation. Falsified videos, altered photos and fake news can all incite fear, panic and even violence during a political crisis. Fact checkers, who are independent journalists, can use the verification process to establish what information is true and false, and then build trust with the public by sharing the methods they use to identify and debunk viral and manipulated media.