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

Magda Abu-Fadil
Updated 16 May 2017
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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.


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.