Fake news in the post-truth era

Did Mark Zuckerberg announce his resignation from Facebook? Was a restaurant in Texas shut down for serving human meat? Does Iceland pay $5,000 per month to immigrants who marry Icelandic women?

Commonly known as “fake news” or “hoaxes”, the majority of them are obviously no-sense. Usually based on conspiracy theories, they tend to have even mythical and religious content. Despite the laughter they may provoke, some of them can distort the truth, especially when they are interfering into politics.

Last year, three months before the British referendum, the Sun in its front page published the title: “Queen backs Brexit”. It was a fake news, refuted by Buckingham Palace, but did everyone know about it?

In July 2016, the satire web site WTOE 5 News reported that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for President of the United States. This hoax was largely consumed from online media all around the world, provoking many questions about the trustworthiness of the information received from the social media.

Worries in the European public sphere

At the EU level, many MEPs are worried about this increasing phenomenon, and some of them ask for a more integrated policy, especially in the social media sector. In April, many called on internet companies to fasten their efforts so that false and defamatory content is removed quickly. Some also asked the European Commission to propose new EU legislation in this field.

In this regard, many concerns exist about the disinformation spread from radical parties. Some studies also address the Russian influence, with the dissemination of online propagandist material.

Unesco’s Information & Communication spokesperson Frank La Rue, in occasion of a media conference in Brussels, said that it is important to start analysing the issue of fake news that right-wing sort of populist politicians are trying to use to discredit the media.

Methods for tackling online disinformation

Since the main source of fake news consumption is Facebook, the biggest social network, in collaboration with Associated Press, has recently launched the “fast checking” tool, filtering news and mentioning if they are true or not. Moreover, softwares are currently being developed, with the aim of collecting news from trustworthy websites and reporting or removing fake news.

Digital control: Solution or censorship?

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, we live in the post-truth era. It means that we value truth less than facts that satisfy our emotions, personal expectations, beliefs and ideologies.

Moreover, algorithms defining what to write, what to read and what to believe can provoke a profound violation of our freedom of expression and access to information.

The build of a more critical public sphere that checks and rejects fake news could be the best solution. Users should be encouraged to have a more active role in protecting the truth and rationalism, reporting online disinformation and really questioning the truth of stories they meet online.

This can only be achieved through education of young people, awareness-raising campaigns and knowledge strengthening.

 

Image: BBC/Getty Images

EU strengthens its communications strategy to build the trust of citizens

Undoubtedly, 2017 is a crucial year for the European Union. Following the Brexit vote in June 2016 and the anti-European Trump’s election in November 2016, as well as the nationalists’ voice (Lepen, Wilders) increasing all around Europe, the Union will certainly have to give its battle to go ahead.

Apart from the political challenge, expressed emphatically with the presence of the 27 EU leaders declaring unity in Rome last week, the Union has to face another more important one: The battle of communication.

“After the crisis, the EU found itself in an uncharted territory”, said European Commission’s Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication Mikel Alvarez, in an event on March 28th. “There is a decline of trust of citizens (towards the institutions) in the last 10 years”, he added, mentioning the necessity for the EU to execute an integrated communication strategy.

One intense critical point about the structure of the EU is its lack of communication with the European citizens. Brussels is considered as a place of punishment for the “untamed” member states, institutions are blamed for producing bureaucracy, while the EU officials are considered as faceless technocrats who have no relation with reality. On top of that, the financial crisis and the migration enlarged the negative criticism, strengthening Euroscepticism all around Europe.

“We have to construct a narrative of hope and show what the EU can do for Europeans, showing the human side of the policies”, said Alvarez, emphasizing at the importance of using different communications channels, taking into account the needs of citizens belonging in different target groups, nationalities, age and cultures of Europe.

In this regard, the EC’s Communications chief presented some relevant projects. The “InvestEU”, an online campaign informing the citizens about the impact of the Investment Plan on the citizens, the “SMARP” project, a campaign involving the EC employees’ active presence in social media and the “60 Rome”, including 60 minutes’ videos of people describing the benefits of living in the Union.

Mediating the EU policies to the public

Communication plays an increasingly important role in the EU affairs. The EU bugdet, directly or indirectly, covers various communication activities. For instance, €185,5 million are spent for the “Europe of Citizens” programme during the period 2014-2020, aimed at strengthening the European identity. Another programmes are the European Citizens’ Initiative and Debating Europe, an online platform of discussion.

Raising awareness activities, social media campaigns, events’ organization are among the top priorities of the EU-funded programmes. To that extent, the broader communication of projects and the dissemination of their outcomes to the public are intensely encouraged by the Commission.

The European Parliament has also repeatedly emphasized at the build of trust between the EU and the citizens. EP communication activities include the usage of digital tools, streamlined videos in 24 languages, audiovisual material and an intense presence in Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. In addition, the MEPs are constantly increasing their online presence, while an important part of their expenses is spent in various events such as conferences, exhibitions, film projections, etc.

Photo: European Commission