In recent months, the impact and influence of ‘fake news’, alternative truths and human errors in reporting have been under more scrutiny than ever. Understanding when to act, how to react and how to make sure your business stays on track is becoming an increasingly complex task. This is particularly critical when it comes to medical and security risks. It is more important than ever to be critical in evaluating medical and security information and verifying a source. Cross referencing and utilising local expertise is essential. Knowing what to focus on could be the difference between a business critical trip going ahead or not, or an employee receiving accurate medical advice.
Fake news & satire
There are some media sites that specialise in ‘fake news’ – these may deliberately echo established news sites. On the other hand, there is a difference between intentionally misleading ‘fake news’ and obvious satire which is intended to provide humour rather than mislead its audience. ‘Fake news’ usually has an eye-catching headline with a goal of increasing readership and online sharing.
This pseudo-reality is also present from a medical perspective, whereby diets, recipes and products are promoted as cures for everything from wrinkles to cancer. Some appear to be backed by science, but are in fact ‘pseudoscience’. Some high profiles examples include:
Following the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, stores in China sold out of table salt due to the incorrect belief it protected against radiation
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, people died after drinking salt water, thinking it could cure the disease
In 2015, when South Korea was confronted by a large outbreak of MERS-CoV, North Korean scientists claimed to have created a vaccine derived from ginseng which could treat SARS, Ebola and MERS-CoV
The numerous oils and “natural” products which are said to prevent mosquito bites and malaria have found a new market in those seeking to ward off Zika, although they don’t live up to these claims
The way in which news is depicted, and therefore how it is shared, greatly depends on the region. For example, the term ‘state of emergency’ holds a different level of significance in different countries and in different contexts. Often this phrase will be applied to circumstances following a major incident, or ahead of an anticipated crisis, where there is a threat to life or limb; it also carries connotations of a civil authority unable to cope with the situation.
However, in many countries the term has a precise legal status which helps determine, for example, issues such as the granting of federal funds and resources to local administrations. The executive declaration by a state governor of a ‘state of emergency’ in a country like the United States, a democracy with high level of civil capacity and a resilient population, requires a very different response from a similar declaration by an authoritarian government, which might be using a situation to suspend laws governing freedom of speech or assembly.
Both are different again from circumstances in which the phrase ‘a state of emergency’ is being used informally by news correspondents to describe conditions on the ground in a country experiencing societal upheaval.
Understanding these contexts and validating the information you receive based on the location you’ll be travelling to with a reputable source, is vital in understanding the real impact.
Six questions you need to ask Meanwhile, the true experts, who respect the rules in communicating their knowledge and their voice, need to be actively sought out. So how should we go about evaluating these claims? Ask questions and investigate:
Does the source clearly identify who they are?
Is the source an established institution, government agency, or reputable organisation?
Does the information point to robust reference sources? Providing references makes independent verification easier.
Is there a feedback mechanism?
Is the information too good to be true? If a cure has eluded everyone else, be sceptical! There are several websites where scams can be reported e.g. http://www.quackwatch.org/, https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/ or https://www.usa.gov/scams-and-frauds
Run the information past a trusted expert advisor- information will have gone through independent review utilising regional first hand expert insight, governmental and industry body relations as well as publicly available sources
To avoid cancelling trips or altering critical travel plans, which can be costly, we recommend organisations consider the above examples as proof that the current state of a region is not always as it may be projected into the world at large. Deciphering what is ‘fake news’ or alternative truths can easily be validated with support from our experts.
Authored by: Irene Lai MD, Medical Director Robert Walker, Head of Information and Analysis