“CHRONICLES OF THE INFODEMIC”
Boryana Dzhambazova of the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria, was asked about the status quo of human rights in Bulgaria.
What are the most common examples of propaganda and spreading of disinformation in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bulgaria?
Bulgaria is no exception from the global trend of propaganda and disinformation vis-à-vis the pandemic. The most popular disinformation campaigns are also widely spread here – advertising quack remedies; claiming that Covid-19 is merely as serious as the seasonal flu; peddling outright conspiracy theories that 5G mobile technology has something to do with the spread of Covid-19; labelling Bill Gates as the mastermind behind the pandemic; alleging that the virus has been created in a lab.
However, we saw another myth that had not been so prevalent abroad – that the government or doctors are paying people to register them as suffering from Covid-19. Of course, there is no evidence for such practice but this conspiracy narrative went viral in Bulgaria.
Since 2017, the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria and FNF have been combating misinformation and propaganda in the country. What inspired you to launch the Chronicles of the Infodemic?
We were overwhelmed by the wave of disinformation about the pandemic that flooded the country. As the pandemic was unfolding, so did an infodemic of disinformation. Even Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, acknowledged the problem saying that disinformation “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.” We wanted to document and examine some of the cases of falsehoods and propaganda to dispel them, so people would have access to accurate and trustworthy information.
By definition, countering disinformation is a much slower process than spreading it. Verifying information and disproving falsehoods takes time and fact-checkers always play catch-up. However, we would consider it a success if after reading the Chronicles of the Infodemic some people pause and think twice before sharing a piece of false content.
The fight against disinformation has been the Foundation's focus topic in 2020.
What are the specifics of the infodemic in Bulgaria?
In a country where press freedom has been deteriorating for years and only 10 percent of Bulgarians think that media are independent, the current pandemic has become fertile ground for the spread of propaganda and disinformation. The ubiquity of social media made the spread of misinformation even faster and easier. A recent poll shows that 58 percent of Bulgarians believe that Covid-19 is being deliberately spread. Another 72 percent say that the danger of the disease is exaggerated.
During public health crises, people are hungry for information and desperate to understand this new disease that we know very little about. When people do not trust media and institutions, however, they can easily fall prey to false information and that way put their own health and that of those around them at risk.