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What to expect in 2021? Misinformation forecasts from our fact-checking partners

In 2020, online misinformation was one of the most daunting obstacles in the world’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021 is already witnessing a wave of COVID-19 vaccine related misinformation. In order to find out more about the nuances and the complexities of the misinformation landscape ahead of us, we decided to turn to our fact-checking partners for their expert opinions on what we should expect in 2021. In this blogpost, we present to you some regional and global forecasts from our partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

1. COVID-19 misinformation will challenge each step of vaccination campaigns.

Trust would be the most essential factor in running successful vaccination drives in countries. As more vaccines get the final go-aheads and countries start their vaccination drives, we can expect misinformation and conspiracy theories posing challenges at every step of the campaign. 

“We expect COVID-19 vaccine related misinformation, but more in terms of availability, distribution, and black-market deals in India” - Bharath Guniganti, Data Analyst and Fact-checker, Factly

“Globally I think sadly we will continue to see a growing wave of conspiracy theories and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and how they are being administered. This will likely present governments around the world with significant challenges as they attempt to launch mass vaccination schemes. Unfortunately, world leaders and their governments will probably need to work harder to gain the trust of local populations in order to reassure them that the vaccines are safe. Until a large proportion of the world has been vaccinated, I fear we face many more months of local lockdowns.” - Rachel Blundy, Senior Editor, AFP Fact Check

2. With high-stake polls in the charts, political and election misinformation will be rampant.

Across the globe, mis/disinformation has become a deciding factor of outcomes of national and provincial elections. This trend can no longer be ignored. In India, fact-checkers are already preparing for a deluge of misinformation around the state elections to be held in 2021. As the stakes are high, we can also expect religion being used to flare emotions and misinform people during elections in India. 

“COVID-19 and vaccines (positive & negative effects) in the form of misinformation should dominate the charts along with massive elections in the state of West Bengal as the ruling party  (Bharatiya Janata Party)  is trying hard to make inroads in the state.” - Uzair Rizvi, Fact-Check Journalist , AFP Fact Check

“We foresee misinformation ahead of elections in the states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, and others. Particularly in Bengal, going by the news analysis and trends, we envisage an uptick in religious misinformation which is also because of the political landscape and the power dynamics in the state. We certainly feel as the election date nears, we will see political mudslinging which might rely heavily on false narratives pertaining to the current state government’s (All India Trinamool Congress) performance and political misinformation.” - Kritika Goel, Associate Editor, The Quint

3. Misinformation on protests and riots will see a fundamentalist spin.

Sweeping policy changes and the pandemic induced economic downturns have given way to dissatisfaction and protests in different parts of the Global South. For instance, the ongoing farmers protests in India will be a talking point in all the elections that are scheduled for the year.

“I think new variants of COVID-19 and vaccines would continue to be a dominant issue globally, but the ongoing farmers protest and upcoming state assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu are going to be the main theme of misinformation in India.” - Akhil Ranjan, Fact-check Reporter, AFP Fact Check

“If the government rolls out the Citizenship Amendment Act or the National Register of Citizens to other states in India, we can also expect a rise in misinformation that poses a threat to religious and communal harmony.” - Balkrishna, Editor- Fact Check, India Today

4. Misinformation during calamities and sporadic events can make fact-checking more complex.

Fact-checkers have often reported a surge in misinformation during natural calamities, pandemic and other sporadic events. These are not often isolated and unrelated pieces of misinformation, but get entangled with other issues making fact-checking more complex. 

“There has been a trend about misinformation on government schemes, and this has seen an increase during COVID-19 times. We expect this to continue for 2021 in some or the other forms. There is also an increase in misinformation usually around natural calamities, and the same was seen this year during cyclone Nivar, Hyderabad floods etc. The same trend is expected for 2021 at places that could see heavy rainfall, or some kind of natural calamity.” - Bharath Guniganti, Data Analyst and Fact-checker, Factly

Experiences of global fact-checkers have helped us anticipate the challenges ahead of us. But they have often reminded us that we need to factor in unforeseen challenges that may come our way. While we dread those days, it is the preparedness and persistence of the fact-checking community that offers us hope.

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