Can you spot misinformation and disinformation online?


During the corona virus epidemic, a plethora of information has appeared on the web, created unchecked and shared at an unprecedented speed. The World Health Organisation has already warned that the pandemic has triggered a so-called ‘viral pandemic’. “infodemia”. This is a term that usually refers to the rapid and widespread dissemination of both accurate and inaccurate information about something, such as diseases, viruses or vaccines.

Scientific facts, rumours and fears are mixed and spread particularly quickly via social networks, making it difficult to know the true information on a subject. It is not only spread among ordinary citizens, sometimes even by politicians, influencers or celebrities, and any untruth spreads like wildfire in an instant.

Fact-checking and debunking untruths take a lot of effort, time and knowledge. The great challenge of our time is therefore how to teach people to recognise the real information in the flood of content, based on scientific knowledge and verified facts.

A new international project called FIDO (from the English acronym: “Fighting Fake News and Disinformation”), in which two Slovenian organisations (Zasavska Ljudska Univerza and the video production company Rusaalka) are also participating, will try to provide an answer to the question: how do we equip online readers with the knowledge to identify false and misleading information through the development of digital competences?

Not everything we find online is real

Today we are faced with an unusual phenomenon: it has never been easier and quicker to access all kinds of information and news with the flood of media, social networks and other sources of information. Knowledge has never been more accessible or cheaper in human history. On the other hand, it has never been more difficult to get at the truth of it. Internet users also bear responsibility for this, often sharing misinformation1 and false information with the rest of the world.

“In my opinion, Slovenia is not sufficiently aware that we have a problem with fake news in our country too”, warns Nataša Pirc Musar, a lawyer and journalist, for 24ur.

The spread of false information, made possible by social networks, has proved particularly dangerous in pandemic situations, when such misinformation can mean a life-or-death decision.

Disinformation on social networks has paved the way in promoting fake medical devices, fostering a misleading sense of security and also destabilising democracies by casting doubt on official guidelines and information.

Here are some ways in which we can check the credibility of information:

1. Verify the source of the information. If the claims in the text do not come from an official source, a credible media house and author, we are justified in questioning the credibility of the information.
2. Be cautious. False information will tell you what you want to hear with sensational headlines.
3. Look at the bigger picture. Is the portal publishing the information reliable? Check the editorial policy and the authors of the articles in the impresum. If you cannot find their identity, their names may be fictitious.
4. Check the source of the photo. You can use Google search to find the source of the photos. This way you can also see whether there are different versions of the same photo and whether it has been deliberately altered.
5. Check the date of publication. Some portals promote old posts over new ones. Therefore, place the date of publication of the article in the appropriate timeframe.
6. Check official sources. Research what expert institutions such as the World Health Organisation, the European Commission and National Public Health Organisations have to say on the subject.

Where do we check for misinformation?

There are several online portals in Slovenia that check the credibility of information for you. Among them is the online project, Razkrinkavanje, by the investigative journalism team Ostro. According to the creators, “they analyse media posts from all Slovenian media, and also check posts on social networks, forums, blogs, public spaces and so on”. Ostro also analyses misleading, false and otherwise for public harmful content, so that politicians, officials and other influential people are regularly targeted.

Another interesting project for younger readers is Časoris, which, in addition to content for younger readers, also “promotes critical thinking about the media and teaches why it is important to identify fake news”. The online media outlet publishes, among other things, different types of videos on the social network YouTube to educate younger people about how to identify fake and real news.

Časoris official website. (Screenshot)

Elsewhere in the world, media and agency houses do the job of verifying the credibility of news, such as the Associated Press, the BBC and CNN.

Given the rise of misleading and false content in Slovenia, it would probably make sense for some media institutions to decide to start verifying content that is circulating as fact, especially if it is said by a person acting in the public interest, such as politicians. The next stage is of course criminal prosecution, of the individuals deliberately spreading fake news or encouraging decisions that are harmful to the public as it is in the case of Greece.

Raising awareness about false information, disinformation and developing digital competences of individuals is therefore necessary and desirable.

Developing digital competences and FIDO

Last March, Slovenia joined the international FIDO campaign, co-funded by the European Union under the Erasmus plus Strategic Partnership for Innovation programme. Partners from Italy, Greece and Poland, together with Slovenian partners, will develop a training methodology for trainers to help participants identify misleading content.

In Slovenia, the workshops, which we have called “Living Labs”, will be implemented by the Zasavska Ljudska Univerza from Trbovlje in March and April. The content to be tested is still in the process of being developed. The “Living Labs” will be a pilot study of non-formal educational practices, which will be shared with the public by the partners once the implementation is completed.

By developing non-formal training material for trainers, we will try to foster in the participants the competences to identify false and misleading content online, to make them aware of internet trends that have been shaped to mislead users, such as: the “deep fake” technique, internet trolls and linguistic manipulation of headlines. Participants will be introduced to terms and methods such as pseudoscience, manipulation of data, photographs and video material.

The aim of the FIDO project is after an initial pilot phase is completed, that the method of identifying false information and misinformation can be used by other adult education institutions across Slovenia and adapted to their local environment and needs.

In the face of a flood of media content, misleading news and false information, an empowered of individual with knowledge and digital competences is neccesity. Users can become an independent and rational user without fear of making decisions in life that are detrimental to him and those close to him because of what he or she reads. Let us therefore be responsible internet users, educate ourselves and develop our digital skills.

FIDO logo.

Article was originally published in Slovenian: A prepoznate lažne informacije in dezinformacije na spletu? | Ljutomer



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store