Beware of “Information Disorder,” MU Director Cautions Journos

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil advised three groups of journalists to be on their guard against “information disorder” that misleads audiences by disseminating dis-, mis- and mal-information.

 

Arab News masterclass in Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation

She kicked off a virtual masterclass with a doctored video tweeted by U.S. President Donald Trump purporting to show an African-American toddler escaping from a white toddler, claiming the former was being chased by a racist child.

The video’s producer used a phony logo of CNN, a favorite Trump target, to falsely claim the network is a purveyor of “fake news.”

The clip is in fact of two little pals who had just hugged and were running together and whose parents cherish their friendship. Trump even misspelled the word toddler.

 

Doctored video tweeted by Donald Trump

Abu-Fadil’s advice was part of training in late June and early July 2020 for reporters and editors located in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Pakistan and India working remotely for the Saudi daily Arab News.

She demonstrated how manipulated information was part of historical events but that its weaponization in the 21st century had taken it to new heights, amplified by social media, hence the need for professional standards of ethical and accountable journalism.

Abu-Fadil also spoke of plagiarism and fabrication as forms of deception, provided tips on media manipulation, discussed the role of influencers in distorting news, and pointed out how easily bots can spread false information.

She urged the journalists not to use the term “fake news” which is misused by politicians and detractors to attack all those with whom they disagree.

 

Definitions of “information disorder”

Abu-Fadil provided examples of dis-, mis- and malinformation, satire, parody, false connection, misleading content, false context, imposter content and fabricated content.

She presented a list of steps to verify user-generated content and stressed the importance of media and information literacy to help the trainees think critically about the information they consume and create.

A portion of the training focused on verification of information before and after reports are published with reference to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) that developed a code of principles to guide fact-checkers in their work.

 

The weaponization of information in the 21st century

Abu-Fadil zeroed in on social media verification, with special attention paid to photo and video manipulation.

She presented several case studies and equipped her charges with tools to detect doctored photos through reverse image searches, to analyze Facebook and Twitter accounts, to learn about geolocation, weather corroboration, shadow analysis and image forensics.

The MU director discussed “deepfakes” and showed a video on how troublemakers combine images of people from different sources to make them appear like they’re saying and doing things they did not.

 

Media expert Claire Wardle explains “deepfakes”

Abu-Fadil wrapped up the masterclass with a note on combating online abuse as journalists, particularly women, are increasingly being subjected to disinformation campaigns that undermine their safety and that of their sources.

The training was based primarily on the “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” handbook Abu-Fadil co-authored for UNESCO.

MU Director on Journo Safety, Disinformation & Freedom of Expression at Helsinki WPFD

Too many journalists are victims of violence and impunity and more should be done in academia to prepare media students for the perils they’re likely to face.

“I urge all faculty members here to incorporate a course on safety for journalists in their curricula,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told academics and media experts in Helsinki. “It’s not a luxury, it’s an urgent necessity.”

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Abu-Fadil was addressing the UNESCO Research Conference on Safety of Journalists in connection with World Press Freedom Day in May 2016 the Finnish capital.

According to UNESCO, one journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty and the impunity of such acts is unabated.

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

Unlike the issues of journalism and freedom of expression, journalists’ safety has not been a very popular topic of academic research. It has rarely been discussed as a specific research question, much less in practical courses.

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development 

“Press freedom depends on safety,” noted Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at the opening of a parallel research conference, adding that 95% of attacks on media staffers are never resolved.

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists' safety

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists’ safety

Abu-Fadil participated in another session on new frontiers in disinformation and the use of propaganda.

Panelists discussed various aspects of media’s misleading messages, hate speech, phony photographs and visuals, manipulation by terrorist groups, and, the proliferation of news websites as a counterforce to government-controlled media and corporate monopolies.

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

This year’s WPFD coincided with the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Law in Sweden and Finland. Finland was part of Sweden at the time.

The “Freedom of the Press Act 1776” passed by Sweden’s parliament abolished preventive censorship and made political debate – including criticism of the country’s rulers – permissible. But religious texts remained subject to prior censorship.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights - Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

“We need governments to be accountable and transparent,” said CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and chair of a plenary session entitled “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”.

Last, but not least, Abu-Fadil took part in “Promoting Freedom of Expression: A Public Seminar on UNESCO’s Impact in the Arab Region.”

The session focused on the importance of freedom of expression for sustainable development, democratic governance, and intercultural dialogue, notably in post-conflict environments.

The three-day conference, including off-site activities, was packed with sessions focusing on media coverage of the refugee crisis, artistic freedom, whistleblowers and source protection, hate speech and ethics, gender issues, and freedom of information.

The conference culminated in the Finlandia Declaration on Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms.

MU Director Weighs In On Journalists’ Safety In Media Curricula

Far too many journalists in the field are endangered by their work but may not have the proper training or support to save themselves or avoid countless threats, hence the need for safety courses in university media curricula.

Short courses for professionals are inadequate and mitigating risks has become a necessity, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil and other experts in the field told academics at a workshop in Amman in January 2015.

Magda Abu-Fadil explains integration of safety course in journalism curriculum

Magda Abu-Fadil explains integration of safety course in journalism curriculum

The event was backed by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and grouped media school deans and faculty members from Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq.

George Awad on UNESCO's contribution to safety

George Awad on UNESCO’s contribution to safety

The two-and-a-half-day workshop was a team effort including journalist, trainer and safety expert Clare Arthurs, who brought a wealth of experience to the table.

Clare Arthurs explains safety for journalists in the field

Clare Arthurs explains safety for journalists in the field

Safety for journalists isn’t limited to conflict zones, wars and terrorism. There are natural disasters, epidemics, and other events that put journalists’ lives in danger.

An exercise in risk assessment seems an afterthought, or a luxury at best, although it should be second nature to news organizations.

Abu-Fadil’s and Arthurs’ combined journalism background added weight to the argument as did that of Princess Rym Ali (formerly Rym Brahimi of CNN who covered the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and was expelled from Baghdad with colleague Nic Robertson).

Princess Rym Ali recounts experience as a CNN correspondent

Princess Rym Ali recounts experience as a CNN correspondent

After marrying Jordan King Abdullah’s brother, Prince Ali, and giving up her journalistic career, she founded the Jordan Media Institute where the workshop was held.

IFJ Arabic safety guide

IFJ Arabic safety guide

The workshop’s outcome and ultimate course design will be tailored to the needs of various educational systems, contexts and languages in the Middle East/North Africa region, and eventually worldwide. It will also be made available online for easy access to all those interested in helping safeguard journalists.