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Another Paid Material Against VoxCheck: Why They’ve Done A Poor Job

Photo: Lena Shulika, VoxUkraine
14 April 2020
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In early April, a scandal broke out with the involvement of Elon Mask, Ulana Suprun, and Vadym Aristov. In his defense, Aristov published a post on his Facebook page containing allegations against Suprun. In its turn, VoxCheck published the material with a point-by-point analysis of his manipulations.

But the story did not end there. Recently, Obozrevatel came up with a publication against VoxCheck in which all components of a paid article were used – manipulations, the omission of the context, hidden advertising, partiality, emotionality, and outright lies. 

Here we analyze point by point why it is a paid material by Obozrevatel and how to avoid being trapped by similar or other more “high-quality” materials.

Emotional headline

If you see an emotionally charged news or publication headlines, chances are high that you have come across a fake! According to journalism standards, headlines should be neutral and provide plain facts. The more emotional the headline, the more likely it is that someone tries to impose inaccurate information on you.

Consider the following headline by Obozrevatel:

Suprun-herb: former acting Minister continues to “heal” Ukrainians 

Author

If you see the journalist’s name underneath a post, you can find them on social media and understand what kind of materials this person authored before, as well as evaluate their professionalism. If you see an admin or a doubtfully existing name in the authorship line, or if that line is empty, then you are likely to be reading a fake or a paid article.

Nearly all materials on Obozrevatel’s website do not indicate the author. The publication in question is not an exception.

Referring to “experts” outside the field

It is often the case that paid materials include commentary from individuals who are not experts in a given field. For instance, here below, one used a quote regarding Suprun’s work in MoH by Nataliia Vlashchenko, producer of TV channel ZIK, affiliated with Medvedchuk.  

To avoid being manipulated in this way, ask yourself whether the individual whose commentary you’re reading is an expert in the field in question. Is she able to contribute to the topic otherwise than provide an emotional comment? 

“4) Nataliia Vlashchenko – merited journalist of Ukraine, author, and general producer of ZIK TV channel – wrote a Facebook-post in line with the comment of the infectious disease specialist’s. She said: “Ulana Suprun tweeting Elon Must and asking for ventilators is almost simulated dementia. She would better not have destroyed the sanitary service and would have carried through a real health care reform, rather than writing appealing tweets to world celebrities.” 

Unverified information

Pay attention to the phrase “is known” in the publication by Obozrevatel. Expressions of this kind are often used there. 

“Ulana Suprun is known to have a powerful bot farm that launched a dense attack against Vadym Aristov, not infrequently using obscene language and threats. By the evening of April 2, the name of a previously little-known specialist became as well-known as the (household) name of  the ex-minister herself.”  

 

Known to who? Is there any research or investigation about Ulana Suprun really possessing some bots? Is this a reference to the words of some experts? If the journalist spoke to experts, one would not fail to provide quotations and names. 

This fragment contains none of the above. Therefore, the author blurs the line between speculation, rumors, and confirmed facts.  

Instead, the passage is full of emotions and value judgments, but void of expertise.

Emotional text

The “material” by Obozrevatel is almost entirely emotional. It does not contain data and facts that a proper publication should have.

If you see that a news text, publication, or post is emotional, you should stop reading it and start thinking – why is someone manipulating my emotions, why would someone do it?

As we explained in Point 1, Emotional headline, according to journalism standards, not only headlines but also the text should be neutral and presented as plain facts. Journalists can express their own point of view in their publications, but it should be clearly separated from facts.    

“Following the mass attack by the sect of Suprun admirers, Aristov came up with a decalog – 10 specific points about why she is to blame for the destruction of the health care system in Ukraine. These ten injections turned out so painful for the elegant soul of “Mrs. Ulana” that the entire fact-checking team of VoxCheck spent the morning of their professional holiday (April 2 is the fact-checker day) to produce a counter-decalog.”  

Out of the context

Here, it is all simple. If something is out of the context, the author, or the sponsor of the material, does not want you to know what really happened. Below are some examples of how our fact-checks are presented in the “material” by Obozrevatel and on our website:

Out of the context  

Aristov: Suprun’s team abolished the state Sanitary and Epidemiological Service in 2017. Because of this, we have neither quick diagnostics (previously, each region had such laboratories) nor a disinfection units network. Everything was scattered across many agencies or disappeared.

VoxCheck: False, in 2017, the Government abolished the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service as its functions were duplicated by the MoH, the State Labor Service, and the State Service of Ukraine on Food Safety and Consumer Protection.

 

VoxCheck original

FALSE: “In 2017, she abolished the state Sanitary and Epidemiological Service – the only anti-epidemic institute in the country. If one wanted to move toward the new system, an analog of the American CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) should have been created, but the Public Health Center had markedly limited functionality (monitoring and communications). Because of this, we do not have quick diagnostics now, there is simply no network of PCR laboratories to test for infection (previously, each region had such laboratories). No disinfection units network. Everything was scattered across many agencies or disappeared from the radar.”

In reality, in 2014, before Suprun took her office, a decision was made to establish the State Service of Ukraine on Food Safety and Consumer Protection. The functions of the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service were to be handed over to this service.

As a result of a court decision in 2017, the Government reversed the decision regarding reorganization and decided to abolish the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service since its functions were performed by the MoH, the State Labor Service, and the State Service of Ukraine on Food Safety and Consumer Protection.

Besides, the Public Health Center is now responsible for combating epidemics.

 

Out of the context  

Aristov: Suprun’s team stopped training epidemiologists.

VoxCheck: False, epidemiology education continues.

 

VoxCheck original

FALSE: “She stopped training epidemiologists. There are about 500 of them for the entire country now. We do not have enough of them to monitor infection cases and isolation of exposed persons. Therefore, the scenario of South Korea, where the epidemic is contained without hard quarantine, is physically impossible for us to implement.”

Firstly, epidemiology education continues. For instance, such programs are available with respective departments at Kharkiv National Medical University, Lviv National Medical University, or Bohomolets National Medical University. Besides, the Public Health Center also provides training and retraining workshops.

Secondly, no official number of “500” epidemiologists exists. This number was only given by Olha Holubovska.

But there are statistics for earlier years  (“doctors of the sanitary and epidemic group”): 2011 – 8,356; 2012 – 1,766; 2013 – 1,880; 2014 – 1,638; 2015 – 1,605; 2016 – 1,588; 2017 – 1,506.

In other words, the primary “downfall” concerning the number of epidemiologists occurred in 2011-2012, not under Suprun.

 

Out of the context  

Aristov:  She pushed out many specialists having a medical background from the central health authorities.

VoxCheck: This is not confirmed.

 

VoxCheck original

NO VERDICT: “She pushed out many “workhorses” from the central health authorities – medical professionals who knew what to focus on to modernize the system, not in theory, but in practice, under a new strong leader.”

This is a baseless value judgment.

 

Out of the context  

Aristov: Suprun’s team did not create a strategic reserve of PPE and disinfectants when most of the reserves were beyond the expiration date.

VoxCheck: The developed countries are also suffering from a scarcity of protective equipment. That is not the fault of a particular individual.

 

VoxCheck original

MANIPULATION: “She did not create a strategic reserve of PPE and disinfectants. Furthermore, according to research, much of the reserve was disposed of because of being beyond the expiration date. Consequently, presently at least one doctor gets infected in Ukraine every day. And one has already died. Mrs. Ulana was the longest-serving minister. The arguments that no one knew about the pandemic are not accepted. The SARS epidemic occurred in 2002. Those countries that wanted to get prepared (South Korea, Singapore, and other Asian countries) did so. What is more, Bill Gates continued to complain for a long time of a lack of readiness for the CDC system and inevitable consequences. Why build systems of the past in Ukraine? Why block the search for new systems that could handle the challenges of the future?”

No one in the world was ready for the pandemic. The developed countries such as Italy, Spain, the United States, or France are also suffering from the rapid spread of disease, a scarcity of supplies, tests, and ventilators. This is not the fault of a particular individual.

 

Out of the context  

Aristov: She abolished statistics form No.12. Because of this, currently, there is no appropriate mechanism to evaluate the incidence of SARS or pneumonia.

VoxCheck: The form was annual, large, and outdated.

 

VoxCheck original

MANIPULATION: “She abolished statistics form No.12. Because of this, currently, there is no appropriate mechanism to evaluate the incidence of SARS or pneumonia, and there are not enough laboratories and tests to assess the situation indirectly.”

Firstly, Form No.12, or “report on diseases found in patients residing in the medical service area,” was annual. That is, it would not be possible to use it to get operational information.

Secondly, the form was cumbersome and outdated, so it was abolished to reduce the burden on medical staff and give the doctors more time to do their work, i.e., cure people.

 

Out of the context  

Aristov: Suprun’s team representative Aleksandra Ustinova, MP (Holos party), launched a media harassment campaign against the first Ukrainian PCR test system developers, which were ready at the end of January.

VoxCheck: Oleksandra Ustinova, MP, who is not Suprun’s team representative, protested against purchases of reagents needed for the test development from a Russian company. A representative of the developer company admitted that they used Russian reagents. That’s why the development stopped. 

 

VoxCheck original

MANIPULATION: “Mrs. Suprun’s team representative – an MP from the Holos faction – launched a media harassment campaign against the first Ukrainian PCR test system developers. We had our own tests ready at the end of January. In mid-February, they even made it through bureaucratic hurdles and got officially registered. However, instead of protecting such innovations, we destroyed this initiative. And now we buy them abroad. For a much higher price. And we do it much slower because the foreign manufacturers have export restrictions. Thousands of people contracted the disease because of this, we will see them in hospitals over the next 2 weeks.”

This is about the coronavirus test developer scandal. Oleksandra Ustinova, deputy head of the Holos party, found out that the test systems were supposed to be purchased from a Russian company under the guise of manufacturing them in Ukraine. Later, a representative of the company she blamed it on admitted that the reagents they used were indeed Russian and suggested refuse from them. We cannot judge who was right before the court’s decision, so we leave that statement without a verdict. 

It should be mentioned that Ustinova was not a “Suprun’s team representative”. Starting in 2014, long before Mrs. Suprun’s appointment, she worked at the Anti-Corruption Action Center, NGO, where she was mainly involved with investigations in the medical sphere.

The cost of foreign test systems is UAH 400-600, and some importers indicated the price of about UAH 300 per test when placing a wholesale order. Concerning the tests manufactured in Ukraine, it was written that they “should be cheaper,” but no specific price was indicated. The site of the company that got into the scandal contains no price for the test either. 

Besides, the availability or absence of tests does not affect the number of those infected. 

In lieu of a conclusion

The information space is currently teeming with fakes, disinformation, and paid materials. Our VoxCheck team is combating them daily. However, this can be done by each one of you – then we can live in a much cleaner information space.  

To better understand how the media are trying to manipulate you, see our online course “Factcheck: trust but double-check.” 

To sum up, we will use a screenshot of the “publication” by Obozrevatel:

“As the saying goes, no need for further comment here.”

 

Authors

Attention

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations