There are many ways to combat misinformation. Fact-checking and training people on how to verify the content they read are two of the most popular. Disseminating credible news to expand journalism’s reach might be a third way.
I created the newsletter Correio Sabiá in October of 2018, in pursuit of that approach: sharing credible reporting on WhatsApp, the very platform on which people often spread false information. This way, I try to fill an environment known for the widespread mis- and disinformation on it, with professional news curation.
I share the politics-focused newsletter Monday through Friday mornings in a series of WhatsApp groups I’ve created. It features a curation of political and economic news, a brief explanation, links and emojis – all intended to engage readers in an informal, humorous way.
I launched this project during the 2018 presidential election in Brazil won by Jair Bolsonaro. His was a campaign defined by the widespread dissemination of misinformation, especially on WhatsApp.
If people were sharing misinformation on the messaging app, I figured they could do the same with credible, independent journalism. This became a key strategy to grow my audience – every Correio Sabiá edition includes a link to join the group. If someone forwards the newsletter, new readers will also be able to subscribe.
The effect of this word-of-mouth approach is clear. Correio Sabiá had only one WhatsApp group when I created it. It grew to four in only a few days, and now there are 3,300 users across 16 groups who receive their daily news content in a messaging app.
False information is sent by people you trust
Misinformation is challenging because it might come from someone you trust. In many cases, that person is a friend or parent — people in your life who wouldn’t intentionally lie to you.
The same can be true for journalism. When you receive a news-related message from someone you know, it might be easier to read and trust.
Among our 3,300 daily readers, Correio Sabiá has many potential consumers of misinformation. However, when readers send Sabiá’s newsletter to others, they are spreading factual reporting instead of viralizing misinformation.
The importance of engaging your audience
These word-of-mouth and daily messages aren’t just helpful in the fight against misinformation — they also engage readers. I often receive readers' tips and feedback because they feel a part of the community I’ve created on WhatsApp.
I carefully answer all messages I receive in my inbox. There’s no one better than your readers to give you feedback on how you can improve the product you’ve created. After all, it’s meant to be of use to them.
People feel more confident supporting the journalism that is accessible and listens to its readers. Sabiá has a membership program that currently has 42 supporters who pay around US$170 a month in total.
It’s not much, but the funds cover Sabiá's monthly costs and help me afford freelance support such as designers and video editors. I’ve also put these investments toward improving Sabiá's Instagram. So far this year, our following has more than tripled.
This growth is important for attracting more readers. And more readers may result in more revenue, leading to what I hope will be sustainable growth.
It gives me hope that I will be able to launch even more products — a podcast, for example — in the future, and hire journalists to produce exclusive content beyond just news curation. Could WhatsApp have been just the starting point for a full-blown media outlet?