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Trust or not to trust media coverages?

Trust or not to trust media coverages?

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) change rapidly over the years. Look at forms of new media, like TikTok, the usage of memes and others. Forms of new media are often considered as an important aspect of development and social change plus behavior. In the next couple of weeks, my blogs will focus on global media coverages – engaging with international development embedded in online media broadcasts worldwide. The ultimate question for this blog: can we trust global media coverages or not?

Since the results of the Brexit votes in the United Kingdom, Donald Trump his victory in the United States and the re-elections in Kenya, there has been a discussion how information or information disorder is influencing democracies. Are campaigns designed to trust or mistrust candidates and/or create confusion and sharpen sociocultural divisions among nationals, ethnic or racial groups and create heavily tensions? And what is the connection or difference between the language of truth and falsity? And what is the relationship between ICT and development?

As Sharyl Attkisson, five-time Emmy Award winner and a former CNN correspondent, is investigating and asking herself:

What is fake news?

When is it fake news?

Does fake news manipulate all of us?

And overall: is fake news real?

Like Attkisson comments it depends on where you sit, not only where in the world but also at which side. As a communication officer myself I know how important it is to check my sources, not being biased or poorly informed. Like Attkisson investigated and expressed – it seemed that the notion of fake news always has been there but that it hit the mainstream news during and after the election campaign of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016 on a daily basis. At least in the American democracy – but the mainstream news did not only hit CNN, also news channels like BBC etc. Two strong points what Attkisson raised is: i) the reason to put it out there and ii) to follow the money. Is there a propaganda campaign going on and/or an aggressive discrimination – with a backfire leading to a takeover and a call for the other counter party? It is important to look at media literacy, what connects us with the language of truth or falsity.

Looking at this language of truth and falsity, the BBC News showed recently a misleading map of the Corona virus what was spread on the internet and was picked up by several Australian news outlets and appeared in online editions of the Sun, Daily Mail and Metro. Researchers at the University of Southampton published their research predicting where people from Wuhun, where the Corona virus originated, had travelled. The researchers looked at air travel and mobile phone data but did not explain the map was not part of the study. After all the map and the series of messages about their work on Twitter have been removed, but have been viewed for more than seven million times (source: BBC News).

To categorize these news items, Claire Wardle (PhD) and Hossain Derakhsan wrote a Council of Europe report about Information Disorder Towards an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making. It is interesting to see their conceptual framework examining information disorder, identifying three types:

  • Mis-information: when false information is shared, but no harm is meant
  • Dis-information: when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm
  • Mal-information: when genuine information is shared to cause harm

Figure: Information Disorder (Wardle, Derakhsan, 2017)

To label false news, we also need to separately examine elements such as the agent, message and interpreter. The agent as in the type of actor, level of organization, type of motivation, intended audience, intent of harm, official, unofficial etc. Looking at the message, it can be misleading, manipulated or fabricated, being legal or illegal and/or on the individual, organization, social group or entire society. Lastly, it is about how the message is red and/or action is taken. Whether it is oppositional, negotiated or hegemonic, ignored, shared in support or in opposition etc. Next, there are several phases that need to be considered according to the researchers, like the creation, production and distribution phase. Depended on i) when the message is created, ii) when the message is turned into a media product and iii) when the product is distributed or made public. So several aspects which are crucial to examine and categorize mis-/dis- of mal-information and thus false news coverages.

Although it might be hard to claim that there is a relationship between ICT and development; it seems that by looking at recent developments over the last years – e.g. mentioned in the TED talk by year by Attkinsson and the fact that the Council of Europe reports about Information Disorder for an interdisciplinary framework for research and most importantly: policy making. Coming back to my previous question: can we trust global media coverages or not? As a communication officer I feel that there should be strategies and policies designed by media organizations and to collaborate with fact checking agencies and other investigation enterprises to guarantee true news coverages and to set ethical standards across all media channels and organizations to protect journalism, journalists and media organizations plus societies. That false news and information disorder is becoming an issue nowadays on a global level has become clear. Interested in this topic and the increased awareness around this debate? You can sign up here for the conference about Media Manipulation, Few News and Disinformation on October 5, 6 in Tokio, Japan.

How do you feel about the trustworthiness of media coverages? Trust or not to trust?

Please feel free to leave your comment, opinion or remark below.

2 Comments

  1. Rebecca Paris Senior

    This is a really hot topic, especially in a time of increased mediatisation. What to believe? And what sources to believe, and why? Fact checking is indeed essential, but then, according to where you stand on the political bench, some newspapers can be considered reputable by some and not by others.

    In fact, even science gets disputed, as we observe discussions on global climate change. This mistrust for mainstream media made it so that people often look for answers on even less reputable sources – or in general, only believe what they *want* to believe.

    In some instances, it is really easy to spot ‘fake news’, with a few clicks you can spot if something is real or if it is fiction, especially with the use of fact checking websites. With the surge of social media (and messaging systems, such as whatsapp) it seems that the spread of fake news gets faster and faster.

    Great job!

  2. Dovile

    The case of mis-, dis- and mal-information is especially relevant nowadays, during the coronavirus outbreak. For us as communication professionals it is natural to conduct fact and background checks, and it’s relatively easy to spot the fake news, but unfortunately it is not the case for the majority of civil society. I totally agree that there should be some sort of entities established to assess and manage the information flow for mass audiences. Great article and insights, Marijke!

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