BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
OSAKA – Fact-checking or political propaganda?
That’s the question being asked in Osaka after Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), the local political group affiliated with the national party Nippon Ishin no Kai, announced it has set up a new Twitter account to monitor coronavirus-related information online.
Concerned about a rise in what they said was false or misleading statements on social media about the local response to the coronavirus, Osaka Ishin launched Fact Checker, a new Twitter account, to track posts about not only Osaka’s response to the virus but also other information about the local political group, which is headed by Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura.
“There is a strong tendency for hoaxes on the internet and social media. They are anonymously distributed because the posters hate our party,” Yoshimura said in mid-February before the new Twitter account was launched. “But the information is retweeted as if it were true.
“If I personally said, ‘This information is a hoax,’ it wouldn’t work. So, I decided to respond through Osaka Ishin,” Yoshimura said.
The account invites people to submit information and Osaka Ishin will determine if it’s true or false. But Yoichiro Tateiwa, founder and executive editor of InFact, which uses internationally established norms for fact-checking media reports, says that the new group’s structure is vague and it lacks one of the most important elements to be called truly objective fact-checking.
“What’s important for fact-checking is the presence of a third party to do the fact-checking,” he said.
Tateiwa points to standards established by the International Fact-Checking Network, which monitors traditional and social media outlets for false information, and provides training and resources for fact-checkers. The network’s five principles include commitments to nonpartisanship; fairness; transparency of sources; transparency of funding, organization and how fact-checking is done; and a promise to publish corrections if fact-checkers make mistakes.
Osaka Ishin’s attempts to do fact-checking are, on the other hand, reports of in-house efforts to respond to information about policies it is responsible for.
On Friday, Osaka Ishin’s new account addressed a tweet published Feb. 12 from someone who claimed to be in close contact with a coronavirus-infected person but had never heard anything from Osaka’s public health center while undergoing self-quarantine.
The account offered a long explanation to the complaint, saying that, after the explosion of coronavirus cases, local public health centers have shifted from calling up people undergoing self-quarantine and asking them about their condition to having people contact them should their condition change.
Yoshimura has already faced a barrage of online criticism for the effort, partially for the lack of third-party fact-checking, and partially out of concern that he and Osaka Ishin will use the account as a propaganda tool and to attack individuals they don’t agree with. He denies that the account has been set up to attack individuals, and that the account is the proper way to respond to what he perceives as false or misleading information.