- A KAIST data scientist group responds to facts and rumors on COVID-19 for global awareness of the pandemic. -
Like the novel coronavirus, rumors have no borders. The world is fighting to contain the pandemic, but we also have to deal with the appalling spread of an infodemic that is as contagious as the virus. This infodemic, a pandemic of false information, is bringing chaos and extreme fear to the general public.
Professor Meeyoung Cha’s group at the School of Computing started a global campaign called ‘Facts before Rumors,’ to prevent the spread of false information from crossing borders. She explained, “We saw many rumors that had already been fact-checked long before in China and South Korea now begin to circulate in other countries, sometimes leading to detrimental results. We launched an official campaign, Facts before Rumors, to deliver COVID-19-related facts to countries where the number of cases is now increasing.” She released the first set of facts on March 26 via her Twitter account @nekozzang.
Professor Cha, a data scientist who has focused on detecting global fake news, is now part of the COVID-19 AI Task Force at the Global Strategy Institute at KAIST. She is also leading the Data Science Group at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) as Chief Investigator.
Her research group worked in collaboration with the College of Nursing at Ewha Woman’s University to identify 15 claims about COVID-19 that circulated on social networks (SNS) and among the general public. The team fact-checked these claims based on information from the WHO and CDCs of Korea and the US. The research group is now working on translating the list of claims into Portuguese, Spanish, Persian, Chinese, Amharic, Hindi, and Vietnamese. Delivering facts before rumors, the team says, will help contain the disease and prevent any harm caused by misinformation.
The pandemic, which spread in China and South Korea before arriving in Europe and the US, is now moving into South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. “We would like to play a part in preventing the further spread of the disease with the provision of only scientifically vetted, truthful facts,” said the team.
For this campaign, Professor Cha’s team investigated more than 200 rumored claims on COVID-19 in China during the early days of the pandemic. These claims spread in different levels: while some were only relevant locally or in larger regions of China, others propagated in Asia and are now spreading to countries that are currently most affected by the disease.
For example, the false claim which publicized that ‘Fireworks can help tame the virus in the air’ only spread in China. Other claims such as ‘Eating garlic helps people overcome the disease’ or ‘Gargling with salt water prevents the contraction of the disease,’ spread around the world even after being proved groundless.
The team noted, however, that the times at which these claims propagate are different from one country to another. “This opens up an opportunity to debunk rumors in some countries, even before they start to emerge,” said Professor Cha.
Kun-Woo Kim, a master’s candidate in the Department of Industrial Design who joined this campaign and designed the Facts before Rumors chart also expressed his hope that this campaign will help reduce the number of victims. He added, “I am very grateful to our scientists who quickly responded to the Fact Check in these challenging times.”
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