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Unesco produces a tool to counter the fake news era

Journalism  'Fake News' & Disinformation


Journalism, ‘fake news’ & disinformation by Cherilyn Ireton and Julie Posetti, Handbook for Journalism Education and Training, 122 pp, UNESCO Series on Journalism Education, Paris 2018

PARIS - UNESCO works to strengthen journalism education, and this publication is the latest offering in a line of cutting-edge knowledge resources.

The handbook which you can download here is part of the ‘Global Initiative for Excellence in Journalism Education’, which is a focus of UNESCO’s International Program for the Development of Communication.

The initiative seeks to engage with teaching, practising and researching of journalism from a global perspective, including sharing international good practices.

Accordingly, the current handbook seeks to serve as an internationally-relevant model curriculum, open to adoption or adaptation, which responds to the emerging global problem of disinformation that confronts societies in general, and journalism in particular.

It avoids assuming that the term ‘fake news’ has a straightforward or commonly understood meaning.

This is because ‘news’ means verifiable information in the public interest, and information that does not meet these standards does not deserve the label of news.

In this sense then, ‘fake news’ is an oxymoron which lends itself to undermining the credibility of information which does indeed meet the threshold of verifiability and public interest – that is, real news.

To better understand the cases involving exploitative manipulation of the language and conventions of news genres, this publication treats these acts of fraud for what they are – as a particular category of phony information within increasingly diverse forms of disinformation, including in entertainment formats like visual memes.

In this publication, disinformation is generally used to refer to deliberate (often orchestrated) attempts to confuse or manipulate people through delivering dishonest information to them. This is often combined with parallel and intersecting communications strategies and a suite of other tactics like hacking or compromising of persons.

Misinformation is generally used to refer to misleading information created or disseminated without manipulative or malicious intent. Both are problems for society, but disinformation is particularly dangerous because it is frequently organised, well resourced, and reinforced by automated technology.

The purveyors of disinformation prey on the vulnerability or partisan potential of recipients whom they hope to enlist as amplifiers and multipliers. In this way, they seek to animate us into becoming conduits of their messages by exploiting our propensities to share information for a variety of reasons.

A particular danger is that ‘fake news’ in this sense is usually free – meaning that people who cannot afford to pay for quality journalism, or who lack access to independent public service news media, are especially vulnerable to both disinformation and misinformation.

The spread of disinformation and misinformation is made possible largely through social networks and social messaging, which begs the question of the extent of regulation and self-regulation of companies providing these services.

In their character as intermediary platforms, rather than content creators, these businesses have to date generally been subject to only light-touch regulation (except in the area of copyright). In the context of growing pressures on them, however, as well as the risks to free expression posed by over-regulation, there are increased – although patchy – steps in the frame of self-regulation.

In 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion focused his annual report on the issue, urging the Internet companies to learn from self-regulation in the news media, and to better align with UN standards on the right to impart, seek and receive information.

Within this fast evolving ecology of measures taken by both states and companies, there is a very significant role for journalists and news media, which is where this publication comes in.


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