"Together we unite." Photo credit: United Nations COVID-19 Response.
Published January 19, 2021
Updated January 22, 2021
By Susana Mas,
Five years ago this month I was working as a senior online journalist at CBC Politics when I was assigned to fact-check a couple of posts that had been circulating on social media over the holidays.
The posts falsely claimed that Syrian refugees were receiving more financial assistance than Canadian pensioners or Canadians on welfare.
It was the latest in a series of false and misleading claims that were circulating online in the lead up to the Canadian federal election of 2015, just as a largely divisive and racist U.S. presidential election campaign was taking foothold south of the border.
Little did I know then that the next few years would see social media flooded with disinformation on an unprecedented scale.
Fast-forward to the end of 2019 when conspiracy theories, hoaxes and memes about a novel coronavirus began to spread on social media in different countries and languages around the world.
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” declared the World Health Organization on Feb. 15, 2020. By mid-March, the WHO announced that the COVID-19 outbreak was a pandemic.
This is the first global pandemic of the digital age and both mis — and disinformation are everyone's problem now.
False and misleading information thrives in multiple languages on social media, in closed groups and in private chats via direct messaging apps. It's easy for mis — and disinformation to go largely undetected in spaces where journalists and fact-checkers can't access.
I created Verifiably, a direct texting line to a multilingual journalist, using a third-party app called Subtext in an effort to close that gap. My goal was to create a safe space, away from social media, where people in underserved communities and the frontline workers who support them could reach a trusted journalist to help them navigate COVID-19 news and mis — and disinformation online.
When you subscribe to Verifiably, I will regularly send you text messages with COVID-19 information and tips on how to spot mis — and disinformation online. You can also text me your questions and/or suggestions for fact-checks related to COVID-19 in English, French or Spanish. (I wish I spoke more languages!)
Verifiably's mission is to equip people in underserved communities with accurate information, trusted sources of news and the tools needed to detect false and misleading information online.
Standard messaging and data rates may apply.
Subtext will not sell your data and neither will I.
Hi, my name is Susana Mas (she/her). I'm an immigrant, settler, journalist and media literacy trainer on unceded Algonquin territory.
I spent the better part of the past decade working as a Parliamentary journalist where I covered national news and politics for CBC and CTV. I also covered local news for the Ottawa Citizen and CJAD 800 radio. My freelance work has appeared online in the National Observer, Chatelaine, Maclean's, and Global News Radio 640 Toronto. I am a two-time RTDNA winner and a Canadian Association of Journalists award nominee.
For over a year now, I have been working as a news and digital literacy trainer teaching people how to push back against mis — and disinformation online.
I have hosted workshops and webinars in collaboration with local agencies that work with immigrants and newcomers such as Refugee613 and the Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre, as well as journalism non-profits such as Journalists for Human Rights in partnership with CIVIX and New Canadian Media. In all instances, the feedback has been very positive.
People are looking for effective strategies to identify facts from fiction, as well as practical tips on how to talk to family and friends who are sharing misinformation in their private networks.
This work has made it clear that while racialized communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accurate information and fact-checks are not always reaching the people who need it the most.
While I am launching Verifiably without any grants or funding of any type, the texting service is FREE to the public (standard messaging and data rates may apply) because news and information should be accessible to all.
My hope is that it will become financially sustainable which would allow me to pay the bills and hire one or more BIPOC journalists who speak different languages.
Join me and Verifiably’s texting community today and let’s get through the first winter of the COVID-19 pandemic together!
You can read more about Subtext and subscribe to Verifiably by clicking on the button below. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Susana Mas (she/her) is an immigrant, settler, independent journalist, news and digital literacy trainer based in Ottawa, Ontario. She is the Founder of Verifiably: a direct texting line to a multilingual journalist who can help you navigate news and mis — and disinformation online.