The dangerous profession of independent journalism, Trump’s misleading coronavirus video, and the consequences of the infodemic

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Edited by Marco Nurra

Belarus police target media, arrest DW reporter before vote. Authorities in Belarus are targeting independent journalists ahead of Sunday’s presidential election. Freelance journalist Alexander Burakov, who reports from Belarus for DW’s Russian-language service, was preparing to celebrate his 46th birthday with his family on Thursday. Instead, he ended up in a temporary detention cell after being arrested twice by the police in his hometown, Mogilyov, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of the capital, Minsk. Burakov had expected that he would be detained. A few days before his arrest, he told DW that he was worried about possible efforts by the authorities to prevent independent journalists from covering the presidential election.

Media in Turkey: a testing ground of censorship and control. Turkey is currently the largest prison for journalists in the world, with over 80 media workers in detention. Not content with that, the Turkish parliament has now passed a law that gives the government more control over social networks.

The system is failing Mexican journalists. Violence, instability and impunity continue to plague the country’s news industry. At least 120 periodistas — Spanish for journalists — and likely many more have been murdered in Mexico since 1992. Several sources, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Article 19, estimate the impunity rate for murdered media workers in Mexico to top 90%. Many of these groups consider reporting in Mexico to be more dangerous than in any other country not currently involved in a war.

Journalists have died for their reporting in Indian-administered Kashmir. But since last year, few dare to print the truth. Journalists and editors who worked during the shutdown say the government restrictions made reporting all but impossible. And in the months since, they say colleagues have been intimidated, questioned and even charged under anti-terrorism laws for pursuing stories deemed critical of the government. Almost one year after the start of the communications blackout, while internet and phone lines have now largely been restored, many newspapers are relying on government advertising revenue to stay afloat.All that has caused some to question whether an independent press in Jammu and Kashmir is possible at a time when readers need it most.

Killing of Pakistani anti-corruption journalist sparks protests. The murder of a reporter known for exposing corruption has set off a wave of protests across Pakistan’s western Balochistan province, one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Anwar Jan was shot dead by two gunmen on the evening of 23 July as he drove his motorbike home in the town of Barkhan. Three days after Jan was killed, more than a thousand people gathered in his town calling for justice. The protests spread to the regional capital, Quetta, the industrial port of Gwadar and beyond, and online under the hashtag #JusticeforAnwarJan.

A newsroom at the edge of autocracy. The South China Morning Post is arguably the world’s most important newspaper—for what it tells us about media freedoms as China’s power grows. The SCMP is not as well read as the international outlets that it would like to compete with, but because of its unique position—as the main English-language outlet in a strategically important city—its coverage plays an outsize role in shaping international understanding of events not just in Hong Kong but across the border in China, as well.

Facebook removes Trump campaign’s misleading coronavirus video. Facebook took down a video posted by the campaign of President Trump on Wednesday in which he claimed children were immune to the coronavirus, a violation of the social network’s rules against misinformation around the virus. It was the first time Facebook has removed a post by Mr. Trump’s campaign for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus, though the social network has previously taken down other ads and posts by the campaign for violating other policies.

Twitter to label state-controlled news accounts. The move makes affected accounts less likely to appear in search results, notifications and on a user’s timeline. The company will also label the accounts of government-linked media, as well as “key government officials” from China, France, Russia, the UK and US. Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua News will both be affected by the change. Twitter said it was acting to provide people with more context about what they see on the social network. Other social platforms, including video-sharing giant YouTube, already label the channels of state-backed media organisations.

As election looms, a network of mysterious ‘pink slime’ local news outlets nearly triples in size. In December 2019, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism reported on an intricately linked network of 450 sites purporting to be local or business news publications. New research from the Tow Center shows the size of that network has increased almost threefold over the course of 2020, to over 1,200 sites. Over 90 percent of their stories are algorithmically generated using publicly available data sets or by repurposing stories from legitimate sources. In the remaining stories that have an authentic byline there is often a conservative bent. As reported by the Lansing State Journal and The Guardian,  this includes articles about voter fraud using data from the Heritage Foundation, negative pieces about elected Democratic representatives, and stories supporting conservative candidates. This low-cost automated story generation has come to be known as pink slime journalism.

People who engage with false news are hyper-concerned about truth. But they think it’s being hidden. Because they can seem bizarre, misinformed narratives can sometimes lead others to assume their proponents are simply irrational or disinterested in truth. It can also distract from the ways of knowing that lead people to conspiracy narratives. Not everyone is interested in accounts of the world based on institutionalized processes and the perspectives of experts. Some people may value different methods, rely on different evidence, value different qualifications, speak in different vernaculars, pursue different logics, and meet different needs. In the words of tech journalist and author Cory Doctorow, “We’re not living through a crisis about what is true, we’re living through a crisis about how we know whether something is true.”

Tracking the infodemic: Charting six months of coronavirus misinformation. The mainstream conversation about misinformation developed in the wake of the 2016 US election and has largely focused on politics, where its consequences are often relative, subjective or unknowable. The consequences of misinformation about the coronavirus have, for some, been death.