Training Journalists In The Era Of Fake News

 

 

As uncannily realistic “deep fake” videos proliferate online, including one recently retweeted by Donald Trump, journalism schools are scrambling to adapt to an era of misinformation — or fake news.

Experts discussed how to train tomorrow’s reporters for these new challenges at the World Journalism Education Congress in Paris last week.

The three-day event — “Teaching Journalism During a Disruptive Age” — was attended by 600 educators and researchers from 70 countries.

“We have journalism educators from places as different as Bangladesh and Uganda, but essentially we all face the same challenges,” congress organiser Pascal Guenee, head of IPJ Dauphine journalism school in Paris, told AFP.

In China, the government makes no secret of its tight grip on the media.

But fake news is seeping into traditional media via Weibo, WeChat and other Chinese-language social media platforms, said journalism professor Peiqin Chen of the Shanghai International Studies University.

“When someone posts false information on Weibo, it can be reposted by a mainstream newspaper’s Weibo account,” she said. “Other mainstream media pick up on it from there.”

“Mainstream media play the biggest role in confirming and spreading fake news in China,” she added.

For politics or profit

It was US President Donald Trump who first popularised the phrase “fake news” in attacks on the news media.

But in May, Trump tweeted a video of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi which appeared to have been edited to focus on sections of a speech in which she stuttered and mispronounced certain words.

“Pelosi stammers through news conference,” he wrote.

Another doctored Pelosi video, which went viral online, slowed down her speech to give the impression she was drunk.

The motivation behind fake news is not always political, said Gifty Appiah-Adjei from the University of Education in Ghana.

“Often it is for financial gain by creating internet traffic, or it’s entertainment,” she told AFP. “And some people write fake stories just for fun.”

Journalism education “is the most effective means by which fake news can be addressed”, she argued.

Until recently, however, how to detect and counter fake news has rarely been taught as a stand-alone course at journalism schools, she said.

Checking sources has “always been part of the curriculum,” said Kamilla Nigmatullina, senior lecturer at Russia’s Saint Petersburg State University.

But today’s ever-more sophisticated misinformation — including doctored videos and photos — requires a fresh approach.

“Journalism schools in China give some courses in fact-checking, but the academic material we study is based on research in other countries,” said Chen.

“China still has a long way to go.”

But for Nigmatullina, we do not need to develop a whole new discipline.

Technology not the answer

“What we do need is joint research with scholars from different disciplines,” she told AFP.

“We could work with neuroscience students, for example, to determine why people decide to share certain information.”

In one project organised by the European Journalism Training Association (EJTA), students from almost 20 journalism schools in 13 countries participated in the fact-checking of articles in the run-up to the European Union elections.

One of the aims, said project manager Nadia Vissers from the Artesis Plantijn University in Belgium, was to learn the difference between “misinformation” and “disinformation”.

“Misinformation is false information spread without the intention to cause harm,” she explained. “Disinformation has the intention of spreading lies and influencing people.”

Misleading information in the media, for example, about migration, climate change and Brexit was classified as “mostly true”, “mostly false”, “false” or “uncheckable”.

The project runs on a shoe-string budget, said Vissers, because “we don’t want any funding from Facebook or Google”.

“The goal is to train journalists,” said Eric Nahon, deputy head of IPJ Dauphine and chair of the panel discussion.

“Technological solutions are not the answer — we need educated journalists.”

AFP

How Conspiracy Theories Followed Man To The Moon

This NASA photo obtained July 3, 2019 shows a fully functional Launch Abort System (LAS) with a test version of Orion attached,as it soars upward on NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test atop a Northrop Grumman provided booster on July 2, 2019, after launching at 7 am EDT, from Launch Pad 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. TONY GRAY, KEVIN O’CONNELL / NASA / AFP

 

It was the biggest piece of supposed fake news before the term “fake news” was even invented.

Millions of people across the world still believe that no one has ever walked on the Moon, and that the images that NASA broadcast in July 1969 were shot in a Hollywood studio.

Thousands of Internet sites are devoted to “proving” that the landing never happened, or calling into question the whole Apollo 11 mission.

Some claim that NASA did not have the technological know-how to pull off such a coup, or that if it did that it wasn’t done with a human crew — who would surely have been fried alive by cosmic rays.

Others tout possible alien involvement, which of course has been covered up — as has the lunar civilisation the astronauts discovered…

But almost all the conspiracy theories focus on supposed anomalies in the grainy photos and videos which NASA sent back to Earth.

Shadows in the footage show they were suspect, as is the absence of stars in the sky in some images — theories which have long since been refuted by scientists.

Yet theories live on regardless of proof from the Lunar Orbiter in 2009 which showed the abandoned modules from Apollo 11, 14, 15, 16 and 17 still on the Moon’s surface.

Six in 10 Russians sceptical

When Apollo 11’s lunar module touched down on the Sea of Tranquility in 1969, less than one in 20 Americans doubted what they were seeing on their television screens.

By the turn of the century a Gallup poll found scepticism has only spread to six percent of the population.

In contrast, more than half of Russians — the old Cold War enemy — still refuse to believe that the Americans got there first.

But surprisingly serious doubt is also rampant among some of Washington’s closest allies, with a 2009 TNS survey showing a quarter of British people did not believe the landings happened, while nine percent of French people were also unconvinced, according to pollsters Ifop.

Academic Didier Desormeaux, who has written widely on conspiracy theories, said the more important an event the more likely it is to attract outrageous counter-narratives.

“Conquering space was a major event for humanity. Undermining that can shake the very foundations of science and man’s mastery of nature,” he told AFP, making it a huge target for conspiracists.

While earlier conspiracy theories also involved images — such as the assassination of US president John F Kennedy in 1963, and the so-called Roswell UFO incident — “what is new about these rumours is that they are based on a minute deconstruction of the images sent back by NASA,” the French specialist insisted.

‘Images anaesthetise thinking’

For Desormeaux it is the first time a “conspiracy theory was built entirely around the visual interpretation of a media event — which they denounce entirely as a set-up.”

The same logic has been used repeatedly to dismiss school massacres in the US as fake, he added, with hardcore conspiracists claiming that the dead “are played by actors”.

“Images can anaesthetise our capacity to think” when deployed with ever more twisted leaps of logic, Desormeaux warned.

“The power of such theories is that no matter what they survive, because they become a belief which comes with a kind of evangelism and so they can go on forever,” he added.

For NASA’s former official historian Roger Launius, “the fact that the denials of the Moon landings would not go away should not surprise anyone.”

Launius — who has devoted a large part of his career to fighting them — said in his latest book, “Apollo’s Legacy”, that deniers “do not accept the same rules of investigation and knowledge that all others live by.

“They have tapped into a rich vein of distrust of government, populists critiques of society and questions about the fundamentals of (scientific method) and knowledge creation,” he added.

For decades they have played on “our deepest and most secret fears”, fed by America’s defeat in the Vietnam war at home and by anti-Americanism abroad, he said.

But Launius also blames the media for adding fuel to flames of paranoia.

“Moon landings denials were fanned by… competition for a new and different perspective on the events,” he said.

AFP