FAKE NEWS 'Misinformation has been such a huge, huge problem during this pandemic,' says Virgin Media News' Richard Chambers
TRUSTING the news we consume has never been more important and Virgin Media News reporter Richard Chambers fears unreliable sources present a real threat to our hopes of emerging from the Covid-19 crisis.
With the spread of the virus increasing once again, Chambers suggests Facebook and Twitter have become a platform for unverified information that has impacted how some are dealing with the pandemic, spawning conspiracy theories aplenty.
The soaring viewing figures for the television news service confirms its bright and vibrant brand of reporting has resonated with the Irish nation in these troubling times, yet Chambers told Magazine+ that he is concerned by online reports spewing a dangerous narrative.
"Misinformation has been such a huge, huge problem during this pandemic," says the respected reporter, who has emerged as one of the stars of Virgin Media's news team during the Covid-19 crisis.
"We see stories that include fake science projected as fact, with people using that information as a rallying cry to promote an agenda that is contradictory to public health and science.
"Some of this stuff encourages people to believe that what they are being told by the most eminent medical professionals in Ireland is not to be believed, and that is dangerous.
"Facebook and Twitter have not done a good job of clamping down on stories that have spread damaging misinformation, but what we have been able to do on Virgin Media News is reach out to people with real news and news they can trust in and believe in."
The negative elements of social media platforms are off-set by the community reach they create and Chambers' active Twitter account, boasting a following in excess of 71,000, has proved to be a valuable asset to interact with viewers around the country.
"Social media has been great for me during the course of this pandemic for interacting with people and having direct contact with our audience," he agrees.
"There is definitely a problem with Twitter in terms of the abuse people can get. Women and people of colour would receive a very different level of Twitter abuse and that needs to be addressed and resolved. Yet for me, I see it as a tool to touch base with people and to relay their concerns to the people that matter in Irish politics.
"I get a lot of messages from people who have been going through a terrible time through this Covid crisis. They have lost family members, seen their businesses disappear and they have legitimate questions that need to be asked at the press conferences I attend on a daily basis. If I can get the answers they want, that is part of my job."
While a vast majority of the nation has followed the Covid guidelines laid out by the Government, the evolution of how Chambers has reported on a story that has reshaped our lives makes for interesting reflection.
"I was looking back at some of the Virgin Media News coverage at the start of this and there was footage of the IRFU officials going into meetings and talking about halting the Six Nations," he continues.
"The reaction at the time was, why would we stop everything for what is essentially the flu?
"When we know what we know about Covid-19 now, it's strange to think about how we viewed this virus at the start.
"It has been tough to report on this story, but it has also been a privilege to be welcomed into people's homes at this hugely significant moment in all our lives.
"The is one of our generation's biggest stories and as a reporter working it every day, it has been intense at times.
"What we do is nothing compared to the frontline workers, obviously, but it has felt like we have been war reporters at times in the last few months.
"I know some journalists who will say they can detach themselves from the story and look at it as a job, but I just can't do that, especially in a story like this.
"Covid is a real human tragedy for so many Irish families. This is not just another number of another graph and we should never forget that."
Richard's Twitter feed is a mix of politics and his big passion of soccer, but he insists he does not have any ambitions to make the switch from news reporting any time soon.
"Sport is my switch-off thing and if I was working in that industry as my job as well, there would be a danger that I would never break from work and it would be all-consuming and I'd never think of anything else," he tells.
"We want to reach out to our viewers, show that we are just normal people and we worry about the same things.
"The feedback we have been getting suggests we have hit the right mark in the way we have been doing things, so long may that continue."