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OCTOBER 2 SPECIAL

Nothing but the truth

Amrita V Nair | Updated on October 01, 2020 Published on October 01, 2020

Get it right: Created by fact-checking initiative Boom Live, That Fact Check Show is dedicated to the discussion and debunking of misinformation in India   -  ISTOCK.COM

To mark Gandhi’s birth anniversary, a toast to podcasts that seek to uphold facts as a beacon in a murky mediascape

* Last month, Joe Rogan, the host of The Joe Rogan Experience, one of the most popular podcasts globally with an estimated 190 million downloads each month, issued a rare public apology for spreading misinformation on his podcast by claiming that left-wing activists started the wildfires in Oregon

* The ubiquity of misinformation has also led to the creation of podcasts that seek to actively counter its spread

* The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the fatal repercussions that misinformation can have in the real world

In the introduction to his autobiography, MK Gandhi wrote, “I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments with truth... as my life consists of nothing but those experiments.” It is difficult to imagine what the Mahatma would make of the world as it is today — where misinformation is widespread and both the creation and the thwarting of fake news have become industrial-scale endeavours.

Podcasts, like other forms of media, have also become conduits for misinformation. Last month, Joe Rogan, the host of The Joe Rogan Experience, one of the most popular podcasts globally with an estimated 190 million downloads each month, issued a rare public apology for spreading misinformation on his podcast by claiming that left-wing activists started the wildfires in Oregon. Spotify, which bought the exclusive hosting rights of The Joe Rogan Experience earlier this year on a reported multimillion-dollar contract, faces a dilemma as it decides whether to censor Rogan, risking accusations of clamping down on free speech from his impassioned fan base, or to continue to allow the circulation of conspiracy theories on the podcast.

At the same time, the ubiquity of misinformation has also led to the creation of podcasts that seek to actively counter its spread. With painstaking research and admirable courage, many of these podcasts seek to counter fake news, serving as the “voice in the wilderness” that “bears testimony to truth” that Gandhi urged his followers to become. In celebration of his birth anniversary, this month’s round-up consists of four podcasts whose creators seek to uphold truth as a beacon in an increasingly murky mediascape.

Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the fatal repercussions that misinformation can have in the real world. Many of us have already received forwarded messages on various platforms advocating miracle cures or dubious preventative measures. In this context, projects such as CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction, hosted by their chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta, plays a vital role in ensuring that scientifically proven public health directives are followed and that people do not fall prey to the irresponsible and false messaging that is circulated online. The podcast asks and answers important questions about widely misunderstood aspects of the pandemic — including the development, effectiveness and safety of a prospective vaccine as well as the importance of following social distancing and other public health protocols to stay safe. Episodes are usually about 15 minutes long and released daily from Monday to Friday. A recent episode discusses the importance of mask-wearing in countering the spread of the virus and busts myths about concepts such as herd immunity, which are often raised by laypersons as an alternative to stricter social distancing measures. Listen at https://edition.cnn.com/audio/podcasts/corona-virus

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe

Created in 2005 by Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe has run nearly 800 episodes so far and is one of the most popular science podcasts in the world. Episodes are released weekly, each about 90 minutes long and divided into various segments featuring the top science stories of the week as well as interviews and discussions centred on the debunking of pseudoscience, superstitions, and conspiracy theories. Novella draws from his expertise in medicine to discredit dubious medical claims and quackery as well as to debunk unscientific claims made by special-interest groups such as anti-vaccine activists. My personal favourite segment on the show is Science or Fiction, in which Novella recounts three scientific stories to his fellow-panellists. His co-hosts then try to determine which of the three stories is fiction. Listen at https://www.theskepticsguide.org/

I can’t believe it’s not news

Hosted by Beth Vaughn and Kelly McCloskey, episodes of I Can’t Believe it’s Not News were released biweekly from 2017 to 2019. According to its website, the podcast sought to explore the “the fake news phenomena and its effect on different facets of society.” Vaughn and McCloskey bring a unique jocular approach to the weary task of debunking fake news — one that is perhaps best represented by their exhortation to “Spread Jam. Not lies.” At the same time, they tackle important topics such as the ways in which misinformation impacts children and the real-life consequences of conspiracy theories and the spread of dubious medical advice. Episodes also feature interviews with experts on identifying and countering fake news as well as those who study the sociocultural impact of misinformation. Listen at https://www.podcastfakenews.com/

That Fact Check Show

Created by fact-checking initiative Boom Live, That Fact Check Show is a podcast dedicated to the discussion and debunking of misinformation in India. Featuring conversations with experts on the topics under discussion as well as people who were directly affected by or involved in the incidents discussed, the podcast investigates the origins and the impact of specific fake news stories. A 2019 episode, for instance, discusses how — in the wake of the crisis at the Punjab Maharashtra Co-operative Bank — fake news began to circulate on social media on the imminent closure of several public sector banks. The podcast also features episodes with more general information on emerging trends and other aspects of misinformation such as the rise of deepfakes and the distinction between satire and fake news. Listen at https://www.boomlive.in/podcast

Amrita V Nair is a freelance writer, public policy specialist and podcast enthusiast

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Published on October 01, 2020
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