Tuneva: In Military Conflicts We Need to Be Careful When Following Social Networks

In wars and conflicts, the use of disinformation is another tactic – not only the fighters on the ground are at war, but also the citizens and institutions that “place their truth” and thus think that they have said things as they are. However, citizens should always be skeptical, regardless of where that information comes from, said Marina Tuneva, executive director of the Media Ethics Council, in an interview with “Truthmeter”. According to her, one of the most powerful ways to recognize disinformation is to be skeptical and critical of certain content, to see where it comes from, who publishes it, whether it is a credible professional medium or a medium that one sees for the first time.

In wars and conflicts, the use of disinformation is another tactic – not only the fighters on the ground are at war, but also the citizens and institutions that “place their truth” and thus think that they have said things as they are. However, citizens should always be skeptical, regardless of where that information comes from, said Marina Tuneva, executive director of the Media Ethics Council, in an interview with “Truthmeter”. According to her, one of the most powerful ways to recognize disinformation is to be skeptical and critical of certain content, to see where it comes from, who publishes it, whether it is a credible professional medium or a medium that one sees for the first time.

 

Author: Sonja Rilkovska

 

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the spread of disinformation, propaganda, hate speech has been noticeable in our country. What is the reason for that?

The appearance of disinformation is not something new, it was expected that the disinformation campaigns, speculations, propaganda would continue. Such phenomena occur because citizens believe in their sources of information, especially in what is placed on social networks. When we exclusively follow our source of information and do not try to think about the truth by consuming different sources of information, we have such consequences and that leads to further spread of disinformation. This is a harmful phenomenon and the citizens should be careful, especially when consuming the contents of the social networks, which bring problems and consequences. In wars and conflicts, the use of disinformation is another tactic, not only the fighters on the ground are at war, but also the citizens and institutions that “place their truth” and thus think that they have said things as they are. Citizens should always be skeptical, no matter where the information comes from.

 

What can the Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia do about this?

The Council for Media Ethics is a media self-regulatory body, which, based on the complaints received from the citizens regarding the cases of unprofessional and unethical information, decides whether the Code of Journalists, i.e. the ethical framework, or the standards of the profession has been violated. We help by appealing to the citizens to report everything they consider to be suspicious content, and then that case to be reviewed by the Complaints Commission at CMEM. We constantly appeal to citizens to make complaints, to react to what is meant by one-sided information, sensationalist information, mixing of facts and opinions, information that means avoiding the truth, etc. It is enough for the citizens to suspect that something is wrong with the text in some media and to report to us, and that can be done by any adult in the country.

 

 

We noticed a lot of fake, old photos and videos that do not correspond to the content i.e. are not correlated with the war in Ukraine. We found that some posts also share videos from video games, clips from movies, and the like. How much does this contribute to the spread of disinformation?

All this is part of the campaigns for disinformation, propaganda reporting, and speculative information. World media also report on such attempts when elements of video games, montages, and even when the content was combined with visualization to achieve some effects. I think the most important role here is played by professional credible media, which can help to present the truth. It is not always easy to get to the truth, especially in such conditions, it is difficult for journalists and media workers to do their job, in a constant flood of disinformation coming from different sides, but everyone who works professionally has it striving to find the truth and find the right sources of information. One way of recognizing speculative and propagandistic information is when the source of the information is questionable. It is enough to do a little research and see where the information is taken from, whether that source is credible, relevant. Is the person speaking qualified to speak about a particular topic and thus slowly get to the truth. There are several tools that journalists already use in their work to find out if a piece of content is edited, fabricated, or misused. Professional journalists should help expose disinformation and fabricated content.

 

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, new portals have been opened without impressium, without signed authors of texts, blogs, Facebook groups, which spread hate speech, fear, panic, and propaganda. What are their purposes and do you know how much the audience trusts them, given that their virality is great?

Opening Facebook groups, portals, and some channels on social networks to spread this type of information is not something new. We know that such things have happened and will continue to happen in our country, which is both a cause and a consequence of the polarization in society. When citizens are divided on different grounds it is very likely to be expected that they will be divided into these topics and issues as well. However, the techniques for recognizing such problematic phenomena, especially in the online world, are clear – to be skeptical about the content that is placed there, to check, to compare, to see where the content is republished from. If the citizens know that this is a technique that helps to distinguish between good and bad sources of information, conditionally speaking, then the effects and results will be faster. Media literacy is a process that does not bring results overnight, but we can best help ourselves. Developing critical skills will teach people to “feed” on the right sources and thus create their perceptions and thoughts. However, closing down media and sources of information is not a solution, because there have been professional media with integrity to have elements of sensationalism, one-sided information, unverified information in the content they place.

 

Does the Media Ethics Council receive complaints and grievances about disinformation published in the media, specifically related to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis?

We have indications from citizens about various phenomena, which are problematic, but formally we have not yet received a complaint. We certainly encourage citizens to file complaints, because that is the primary way we operate. After receiving a complaint, the Appeals Commission meets, decides, and assesses whether there is a violation of the Code. The most common reactions from the citizens refer to one-sided information, dubious sources, sensationalist texts, disturbing content. They are particularly responsive to the visualization and presentation of content that disturbs the audience, especially the juvenile audience and vulnerable categories.

 

 

According to CMEM, which media are the biggest violators of professionalism and the Code of Journalists?

Citizens are constantly pointing out violations in online media. We do not have the latest research now, but in a recent survey conducted by CMEM late last year, we spoke with fellow journalists, media editors, about what is happening on social media. We discussed with members of the Registry of Professional Online Media and they pointed out that what is most problematic when posting their texts on social networks is the simultaneous act of so-called malicious actors, who place false content, propaganda information and thus cause damage to journalistic products. When you find yourself in such a space where such malicious actors act, your work is neglected, marginalized. The public here cannot easily recognize what is professional and what is unprofessional, because those who place misinformation and propaganda use manipulative techniques that cannot be easily recognized. They use elements of truth, but “package” it in their own way. What is happening on social networks is problematic, trolls are organized, troll farms, which create this type of content and thus try to influence the citizens.

 

You often say that there are media that forget the basic principles of journalism – impartiality, objectivity, ethics, professionalism, but we are aware that there is no order in the Internet space, except self-regulation. Is it enough?

Self-regulation is one of the most painless ways to protect the profession and the media, as well as the audience. The introduction of restrictive measures, rigorous laws, regulations, is not a benefit in the long run. Conditions may be created to supplement the legal framework, but what if that regulation is further abused and quality information are called disinformation and this leads to restricting freedom of expression? What if someone in power in the institutions of the system is bothered by the way a media outlet critically reports on a particular topic – they can easily silence the media that way. Hence, in principle, we are for affirmation and support of self-regulation. There are indeed media in the online sphere that abuse their platforms for spreading disinformation, hate speech, discrimination on various grounds, but we believe that the most important thing is to work together to recognize those who work professionally and who are the ones who abuse the power of the publicly spoken word. That was the reason for establishing the Register of Professional Online Media.

What is your advice to readers, viewers, and all those who are exposed to countless unverified information posted on the Internet? Who should they trust?

Citizens are increasingly media literate, as there are more and more such initiatives. There are a lot of debates, meetings, discussions, and journalistic products are made that help to recognize untruths and unprofessional information. Certainly, there is a good part of the public that is not part of those initiatives. How to help them? We said that one of the most powerful ways to recognize disinformation is to be skeptical and critical of certain content, to see where it comes from, who publishes it… Is it published by a credible professional medium or a medium that they see for the first time. It is enough to surf a bit and see what the medium is like and what information it publishes. There is another problem that I want to highlight. The voice of those who are not competent to speak is increasingly heard in the media, so it will happen that colleagues abuse their profession by expecting from a person who may have qualifications in some field to answer all the questions, to talk about politics, economics, military conflict, sports, etc. That’s wrong, those phenomena must be eradicated. A circle of a dozen experts that we constantly see on TV, listen to, and read, cannot interpret all the phenomena and they can be the creators of public opinion. The journalistic profession means much more than just following events. Only with professional work, quality, consistent, dedicated work, there can be progress. It is exhausting to work in this profession when there are wars, conflicts, pandemics, but one who is dedicated to the profession will never fail.

 

 

 

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