Media literacy key ‘to combating fake news, hate speech’

Magda Abu-Fadil
Updated 16 May 2017

Media literacy key ‘to combating fake news, hate speech’

JEDDAH: Media literacy in the Arab world is still “nascent,” but building awareness of critical-thinking skills can help fight fake news and hate speech, an expert in the field has said.
Seasoned journalist Magda Abu-Fadil — who has worked for international news organizations like Agence France-Presse (AFP) and United Press International (UPI), and now runs workshops for journalists — was lead editor of “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).”
The book, published late last year, is a group effort by media experts to document the state of media and information literacy — and, said Abu-Fadil, “often the lack, or scant application” of it — in this region.
The book was the result of cooperation between the UN Alliance of Civilizations, UNESCO and the International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Aimed at educators, the media industry, government decision-makers and parents, the book’s 13 chapters, by several different authors, give perspectives from across the Arab world.
It outlines the importance of the subject given the scourge of the “digital propaganda engines of groups spreading hate, polarization and extreme violence across the world.”
Abu-Fadil said: “Media literacy is one of the keys to deciphering and combating fake news, extremism and hate speech. One must first understand and discern what’s fake, extremist and hateful, before being able to mount an effective and sustained counter-attack.”
Media and information literacy is “nascent” in the MENA region because of the disparities in education and media systems, Abu-Fadil added.
“Whereas you see an interest in promoting the concept and its application in countries like Lebanon, the UAE and Qatar, as well as varied aspects of it in Tunisia, for example, you need proper training of those who impart knowledge to understand how media and information are gathered, disseminated, deconstructed and analyzed — from elementary school all the way up to the university, and beyond,” she said.
“Being ‘nascent’ in the MENA region means we must do some very fast catching up, in deeds, not just in words. We must allocate the required budgets to pursue that goal and train the trainers who will make it happen.”
But she acknowledged that with fake news on the rise globally — and even having been attributed to swinging the election in the US — this issue is of worldwide importance.
“There definitely is a global shortfall in media literacy, as witnessed from the US election… the French election, the Dutch election and wherever else there are high stakes,” she said.


What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

Updated 47 min 34 sec ago

What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

  • Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content
  • Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays content from users
NEW YORK: Facebook’s plan to hire professional journalists instead of relying solely on algorithms to deliver news is a positive step but is unlikely to shake up an embattled media industry, analysts say.
The social media giant said Tuesday it would build a small team of journalists to select the top national news of the day “to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”
It comes as the US media landscape is plagued by job losses and newspaper closures, with organizations trying to figure out how to record profits in the age of free news.
Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays updates and content from users’ friends and relatives.
“In theory I see this as a really positive development. It is something quite promising,” Danna Young, a communications professor at the University of Delaware, told AFP.
Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content.
The California-based company has consistently said it does not want to be considered a media organization that makes major editorial decisions, and this announcement does little to change that, experts add.
“It’s not transformative because it’s not going to change necessarily the behavior of individuals who are referencing stories on their feeds,” said Young.
“That’s where the power comes from — individuals you know and trust putting their tacit stamp of approval on stories by sharing them,” she added.

"Trending topics" scandal
The tab will be the site’s first news feature using human moderators since it shut down its ill-fated “trending topics” section last year after a scandal over allegations workers had suppressed stories about conservative issues.
Articles not deemed top news stories will still be collated using algorithms based on the user’s history, such as pages they follow, publications they subscribe to and news they have already interacted with.
“Our goal with the news tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Facebook head of news partnerships Campbell Brown told AFP in San Francisco Tuesday.
The news tab feature comes as Facebook embarks on a series of initiatives to boost journalism, with traditional media organizations accusing it of benefitting financially from their hard work.
Internet platforms are dominating the Internet advertising space making it difficult for established news organizations to transition what were very profitable print advertisements online.
Facebook announced in January that it will invest $300 million over three years to support journalism, particularly local news organizations.
It has also funded fact-checking projects around the world, including one in partnership with AFP.
Facebook will reportedly pay some publishers to license news content for the tab but Mathew Ingram, who writes about digital media for the Columbia Journalism Review, doesn’t expect that to trickle down to hard-up organizations that need it the most.
“The companies they are going to choose are ones already doing well I assume. It might give them a little extra cash but I don’t see it driving a huge amount of traffic,” he told AFP.

In free fall
Print journalism in the US is in free-fall as social media overtakes newspapers as the main news source for Americans.
Around 2,000 American newspapers closed in the past 15 years, according to the University of North Carolina, leaving millions of residents without reporters keeping track of what their local authorities are up to.
“The death of local news has such destructive effects for democracy. It’s a complex issue that Facebook alone cannot fix,” said Young.
The number of journalists working at US newspapers slumped by 47 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last year.
The total number of journalists in newsrooms fell by 25 percent, the group found, while consultancy firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says this is going to be the worst year for layoffs since 2009.
It’s a difficult time for Stephen Groves, who recently earned a master’s in journalism at New York University, to be looking for work. When he heard about Facebook’s plans, he was skeptical.
“Facebook is not a journalism company and so before working for Facebook I would want to see their commitment to ethical, robust journalism,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
The digital sector is also in trouble.
When Buzzfeed cut 200 jobs in January, 29-year-old Emily Tamkin was let go from a position she had held for just a few months.
“I’m personally not cheered by the fact that Facebook is swooping in and hiring journalists. If that’s the silver lining then we have a very big cloud here,” she told AFP.