Disinformation and Journalism

The news media landscape has changed dramatically over the past decades. Through digital sources, there has been a tremendous increase in the reach of journalism, social media, and public engagement. Checking for news online—whether through Google, Twitter, Facebook, major newspapers, or local media websites—has become ubiquitous, and smartphone alerts and mobile applications bring the latest developments to people instantaneously around the world.

This has placed journalism in a state of considerable instability. New digital platforms have unleashed innovative journalistic practices that enable novel forms of communication and greater global reach than at any point in human history. But on the other hand, disinformation and hoaxes that are popularly referred to as “fake news” are accelerating and affecting the way individuals interpret daily developments.

Journalists are on the frontline of the ‘fake news’ wars. As truth becomes a casualty of disinformation campaigns designed to disrupt democracies and pull down the shutters on open societies around the world, journalists must defend freedom of expression and the public’s right to know.

Finding ways through these contemporary information challenges is of utmost importance for journalists – but more broadly its fundamental to the maintenance of open societies.

Attention is also being given to making audiences more discriminating and resilient, through empowering them with critical Media and Information Literacy competencies. These steps are also part of the solution, although they are generally of a medium-term nature.

For journalists, journalism students, and journalism educators it is mission-critical to understand the nature and magnitude of the threats and have a holistic view of the attempts to counter them.

“Fake news” and sophisticated disinformation campaigns are especially problematic in democratic systems, and there is growing debate on how to address these issues without undermining the benefits of digital media.

In order to maintain an open, democratic system, it is important that government, business, and consumers work together to solve these problems. Governments should promote news literacy and strong professional journalism in their societies. The news industry must provide high-quality journalism in order to build public trust and correct fake news and disinformation without legitimizing them. Technology companies should invest in tools that identify fake news, reduce financial incentives for those who profit from disinformation, and improve online accountability. Educational institutions should make informing people about news literacy a high priority. Finally, individuals should follow a diversity of news sources, and be skeptical of what they read and watch.

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