Mongolian fact-checking center fights disinformation in country where the word doesn’t exist


When the Mongolian Fact-Checking Center started expanding the fact-checking movement to the Mongolian people in March 2020, it also exposed founder and editor-in-chief Dulamkhorloo Baatar to a new set of fact-checking standards. While she had previously done some basic checks as a journalist in Mongolia, it was not as rigorous as the work she and her team are doing now.

“As an editor, I personally thought that giving a politician a second appeal was a way to verify a fact,” Baatar said. “But it opened up a lot more opportunities than we previously ignored.”

Bataar and his team used Poynter’s fact-checking courses to familiarize themselves with a host of new digital tools and techniques to combat lies online. Tools like advanced search and Google reverse image search have helped fact checkers broaden their skills.

“Most of the sources we were getting information from were people and their word of mouth, so we wanted to be able to verify what they were saying,” Bataar said. She said that culturally, word of mouth information is widely regarded as trustworthy in Mongolia, and a lack of research makes it difficult to assess the impact of disinformation.

For the record, Bataar said she saw that the most damaging impacts of disinformation came from bogus COVID-19 cures and phishing scams that steal people’s personal data to trick others into giving it to them. money.

“You lost your Facebook password or your account was hacked, and your friend thought it was you and they loaned you money, but in reality it was someone else”, Bataar said, giving an example of a phishing scam. “So these are the material consequences that you actually feel. “

Senior Fact Checker Battsetseg Enkhtaivan said she saw the effects of misinformation firsthand after hearing her mother and sisters repeat false claims that COVID-19 vaccines were only treatments Chinese experiments tested on Mongolians without proper security checks.

“They made a conscious decision not to get the vaccine because of it, and they were the first people in my family to get sick with COVID,” Enkhtaivan said. “I tried to convince them, but I just couldn’t because their belief was so firmly held.”

Enkhtaivan said his family became more receptive to verified information after experiencing the realities of COVID-19.

“The way forward now is without rushing, but by winning small victories to convince people to consume more reliable information from trusted sources and to use science-backed information to make decisions. “said Enkhtaivan.

Bataar said that while the practice and impacts of disinformation are not new to Mongolia, the concept can be difficult for ordinary people to translate.

“We don’t have a Mongolian word for (disinformation),” Bataar said. She noted that there is a nuance between information that is false and information that has a kernel of truth but takes it out of context. “When you translate that badly, it negatively impacts the outreach that we’re trying to do. “

Enkhtaivan said they had also encountered problems with allegations relating to traditional Mongolian culture. For example, the Mongolian Ministry of Health has issued an advisory that citizens should refrain from committing the 10 sins of Buddhist morality to avoid catching COVID-19.

“It is very difficult to explain how not committing sins will not help prevent COVID,” Enkhtaivan said. “These kinds of culture-specific things are hard to verify.”

Bataar said they generally don’t verify such claims, but noted the irony that lying or engaging in false speech is one of the 10 Buddhist sins that the Mongolian health ministry has advised. to abstain.

Mongolia also still has a large nomadic population. Bataar said it was difficult for fact-checkers and mainstream media to reach them with verified information. She noted that Facebook is widely used in the country, and the fact-checking center’s Facebook page receives significantly more traffic than its stand-alone site.

Bataar said she would like to train some of Mongolia’s 500 media organizations in basic fact-checking to help spread the practice across the country. For now, she has said she is focusing on building the centre’s fact-checking staff to expand its fact-checking production.

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