“From Norwegian Dwarfs to Kopriva”
In the framework of the international project FIDO (from the English acronym: “Fighting Fake News and Disinformation”), which we have already introduced to our readers, we have started piloting workshops for older adults in Central Slovenia, Zagorje ob Savi and Trbovlje, which we have called “Living Labs”. A network of partners from Slovenia, Italy, Greece and Poland, which started work last March, has been working in different locations across Europe, putting theoretical knowledge into practice and educating and informing adult participants about the phenomenon of false and misleading content online.
More than 100 older adults took part in testing new methodological practices on fake news and disinformation in four European countries this spring. In Zasavje, the workshops were held at the end of March at the newly open facilities of Zasavje People’s University (ZLU) in Zagorje ob Savi and a month later at the same organisation’s venue in Trbovlje.
The first workshops were divided into two thematic parts: the initial one presented pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, and the second one trolling.
What do we know about pseudoscience and conspiracy theories?
The term “pseudo” comes from the Greek word ψευδο- (pseudo-) and means false, untrue. Thus, pseudoscience is false science that makes claims based on flawed or non-existent scientific evidence. In most cases, these types of theories present claims in a way that makes them seem possible, but with little or no empirical support. Graphology, numerology and astrology are examples of pseudoscience. In many cases, pseudoscience concepts refer to anecdotes and testimonies to support their often unprovable claims.
“Why do we believe certain information and not others? What makes us trust some things completely and doubt others?”, Liza Kokole, andragogist and training leader at ZLU, addressed the participants.
By integrating the knowledge already acquired through continuous discussion and interplay of topical issues, some examples of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories were presented to the participants. The topic quickly turned into popular debate on the covid 19 virus, an epidemic and on vaccinations. Kokole introduced participants to some Slovenian websites where they can check the credibility of information and to some Slovenian influencers on social networks who are particularly active in spreading misleading content.
“What do we do when someone sells us a product that is false and useless?” was a question that came up in both workshops. Older adults are often victims of online scammers, charlatans and pseudo-doctors, so we gave them some simple tips on how they can be on the lookout for credible online shops and fake traders.
“Troll? Are these Norwegian dwars?”
In the second part, Kokole decided to introduce the participants to an internet trend: trolling.
In internet jargon, a “troll” is a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, harmful or off-topic messages in an online community such as social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.; forums, chat rooms, online video games or blogs) with the intention of provoking users to react emotionally or to manipulate their perceptions. This is usually to entertain a troll or to achieve a specific result, such as disrupting the online activities of a competitor or manipulating the political process. Internet trolling can be defined as deliberately causing confusion or harm to other users online.
“But aren’t trolls Norwegian dwars?” asked one participant jokingly, while others recalled the well-known Slovenian “Kopriva affair”, when the member of once leading political party, SDS, a MP Alenka Jeraj used a fake profile on the social network Twitter to bully political opponents and publicly mock them.
Last February, Jerajeva clumsily outed herself by logging in a little from her own account and another time from a fake one she called Kopriva60918021.
Trolling in Slovenia is also closely linked to the current opposition political party SDS. For several months, the journalistic team of the web portal Pod Črto, whose team has been observing the behaviour of some users on the social network Twitter, who have been spreading messages in favour of the SDS party. The findings showed that the accounts and profile photos were stolen and the identities of the users were unknown. The Slovenian accounts were blocked by the tech giant Twitter, but there were no serious consequences for Slovenian users. Not even for politician Jerajeva, who was re-elected in the last elections and is once again sitting in Parliament.
Could workshops be held in Prlekija?
The FIDO project would like to see the practice of raising awareness about fake news spread to other parts of Slovenia. For the time being, we and our partners are trying to present the project to the public in various ways. The methodology we will develop can be used in any adult education institution, but not only! Talking about fake news and disinformation also belongs in study circles, in libraries or public discussions, on radio broadcasters, on local TV and elsewhere.
Exposure to fake news and disinformation is a global phenomena, not just a Slovenian one. Therefore, the best place to start is by addressing this problem at the local community level in already established social networks and institutions.
Anyone interested will have access to a methodology for teaching about fake news and disinformation and a theoretical handbook by the end of this year. The workshop manuals and the theoretical basis will be available in Slovenian and free of charge for everyone.
However, practice shows that it is best to start from the local and cultural context and present the topic to adults through the tools and social networks they are most familiar with.
Learning about the potential pitfalls of the internet is therefore one step towards developing the digital competences of adults who will be more confident, more discerning and more likely to think twice about who they trust.
Details of the two-year international FIDO project, “Fighting Fake News and Disinformation”, funded by the European Commission under the ErasmusPlus programme, can be followed on the website and Facebook page.