Journalism in the face of the disinformation virus


What can journalism do in the face of all forms of disinformation? The Fondation Hirondelle, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this March, and UNESCO have just published the manual "Journalism and Disinformation" in French. It provides keys to take a step back from disinformation...

Journalism & Disinformation: this is the subject of a training manual by Cherilyn Ireton and Julie Posetti, the original version of which was published in 2018 in English by UNESCO. The French version has just been published by the Hirondelle Foundation as part of a partnership with the UN organization. This handbook provides young French-speaking journalists and students around the world with keys and tools to thwart the traps of contemporary misinformation.

However, we think it would be very useful for the general public to be able to read it as well. Indeed, recent studies have revealed disturbing statistics about our ability to distinguish between misleading reporting and responsible journalism - between "false news" and the truth: According to the Pew Research Center, about 64 %s in the U.S. say that the phenomenon of false news confuses them as to which sources to rely on; in the U.K., a 2018 commission on false news and teaching essential literacy skills found that fewer than 2 %s of British youths who were presented with six articles - four true and two made up - could distinguish between those that were true and those that were not; finally, a 2019 survey conducted for the Canadian Journalism Foundation found that 40 %s of Canadians were not confident in their ability to tell the difference between real news and misinformation; and (1).

Speaking of disinformation

"More than ever before, the information society, which is a component of democracy, is affected by the deadly virus that the world has been calling since the election of Donald Trump by this global term: "fake news", literally "false information". A bad formula, in fact, which adds to the confusion by assembling two contradictory terms since information, by definition, designates an exact fact" explains the editorial manager of the Fondation Hirondelle, Michel Beuret, in the foreword of this manual.

As the authors of the manual, Cherilyn Ireton and Julie Posetti, point out, " misinformation is not new, but it is now fuelled by new technologies: it has become a real weapon in the 21st century, as it had not been before. Powerful new technologies make it easier to manipulate and manufacture content, while social networks dramatically amplify the false news spread by governments, populist politicians and dishonest companies, as they reach an audience lacking in critical thinking and discernment."

"We are alarmed by cases in which public authorities denigrate, intimidate and threaten the media, in particular by claiming that the media are "opposition" or that they "tell lies" and have a hidden political agenda, which increases the risk of threats and violence against journalists, undermines public confidence in journalism in its role as a "public watchdog" and can mislead the public by blurring the lines between misinformation and media content that contains independently verifiable information. »

The point to bear in mind is that "the development of journalistic strategies to combat misinformation must be accompanied by the realization that the manipulation of information goes back thousands of years, while professional journalism is relatively new.. As journalism has evolved, fulfilling a normative role in contemporary society, the news media have been able to operate, in most cases, far from false information and disguised attacks, protected by journalists committed to the professional ethics of truth and public interest using methods of verification. Journalism has gone through different phases and cycles in which it has "looked for its marks".

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Today, despite the pluralistic nature of "journalism", it is still possible to identify the diversity of stories in the news as members of a common family of distinct, ethically based communication methods that also seek editorial independence from political and economic interests. »

*cf. module 3 of the manual

A manual to help fight misinformation

As a program, this manual consists of two distinct parts: the first three modules define the problem of misinformation by putting it into context, while the next three modules focus on possible responses to "information disorders" and their consequences.

The First Module, Why it's important: Truth, trust and journalism, Calls for reflection on the meaning and wider consequences of misinformation and misinformation and how they fuel the crisis of confidence in journalism.

The Second Module, Reflections on "information disorders: forms of misinformation and disinformation". dissects the problem and provides a framework to better understand the dimensions of the problem.

The Third Module, Transformation of the information sector: digital technology, social platform and disclosure of misinformation and disinformation outlines how in the 21st century, in most countries of the world, the fragile public trust in the media was already declining before social networking platforms came to the forefront, providing everyone with the space and tools to share information. The reasons for this decline are multiple and complex.
Now it is the scale, the entrepreneurial spirit and the scope of online false reporting that is creating a new crisis in journalism, with repercussions for journalists, the media and society as a whole.

The Fourth Module Combating misinformation through media and information literacyThe report, entitled "The role of teachers, journalists and information policy-makers", explains how teachers, journalists and information policy-makers should respond to this phenomenon.

The Fifth Module Verification: Verification of fact explains that it is ultimately the rigour of auditing that distinguishes professional journalism from the rest of the news.

The Sixth Module Social network audit: evaluation of sources and visual content is very practical and deals with the problems inherent in factual verification and factual journalism resulting from digital technology and social networks.

Misinformation is a global problem, which goes beyond the sphere of politics to "extend to all aspects of information, including climate change, entertainment, etc.". To date, however, most documented case studies, initial responses and funding for research and tools have come from the United States, where the world's technology giants are headquartered and where President Donald Trump's accusations that the media and journalists are "misinformers" have spurred action and funding.

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The situation continues to evolve, day by day, throughout the world, particularly with regard to the response of many States, which are studying regulations and laws to tackle this problem. Major technology companies have also made significant efforts to try to counter misinformation and misinformation on their respective platforms. In developing this handbook, the European Commission has produced a report written from a survey in which it expressed its concern about the harm caused to society as a whole by misinformation and misinformation.

To function well, the press and democracy need critical thinking, transparency and learning from the consequences of journalistic errors. They also need us to be able, collectively, to distinguish these errors from lies and deception. Otherwise, real information will be described as false and fabricated news (hogwash) will be presented as real facts. 
Craig Silverman.

Download or consult the manual

(1) Source : UNESCOSeptember 2019

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