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 Leads Newsroom Management Workshops in Riyadh, Jeddah

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Arab News journalists on the finer points of newsroom management at the paper’s Riyadh and Jeddah headquarters, with follow-up mentoring covering the Misk Global Forum in the Saudi Arabian capital.

Arab News headquarters in Riyadh

The workshops in November 2019 included the evolution of organizational charts from traditional to digital integrated multimedia newsrooms, issues of leadership, the importance of optimizing technology, and having IT people, designers, data visualization artists, infographics, photo, video and illustration teams alongside journalists and editors.

Magda Abu-Fadil with Arab News journalists in Riyadh

There was no escaping a requisite session on media ethics, notably in an era of alternative facts, deepfakes, disinformation, and the need for fact-checking in all newsrooms.

Journalists also learned about the importance of engagement with their audiences across various platforms. Almost each session had topic-related exercises.

Arab News Riyadh team being drilled on newsroom management

Abu-Fadil used a session on social media to focus on how apps can be optimized to gather and double-check information and why journalists should live blog and live tweet at major events or while covering breaking news.

There was a session on photojournalism and how newsrooms handle graphic images and videos, violence, death and hate speech.

 

Preparing to cover and mentor Arab News journalists at the Misk Global Forum

Not to be ignored is the importance of mobile journalism (MoJo), which Abu-Fadil stressed is a cornerstone of most newsrooms today, meaning reporters should be able to report, interview, write, shoot pictures and videos, edit their work and, if need be, upload the material to the newsroom, or directly to a live platform, if they’re qualified and authorized to do so.

Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The workshop sessions were interspersed with several informative and how-to videos to help the trainees better understand the material’s context.

There were reminders on writing headlines, leads, nut graphs, dealing with numbers, interviewing techniques and covering major events.

 

Arab News journalists in Jeddah beavering away at writing and editing exercises

Other topics covered during the training included gamification, how young people consume news and comics journalism.

MU Director Trains Armenian Students on Migration & Media Issues

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Armenian students on how media should cover the issues of migration, refugees and human trafficking during a summer school grouping local and international academics and experts in Aghveran.

The three-day event in July 2019 on migration and development was funded by the European Union and organized by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, with input from MIBMA Support to Migration and Border Management in Armenia.

Armenian students attend summer school on migration and development

Abu-Fadil and other specialists briefed 23 graduate and undergraduate students from Yerevan State University, Russian-Armenian University, Brusov University of Foreign Languages and other institutions on a host of topics ranging from security to globalization to migration policies to media matters.

The program acquainted the students with Armenia’s migration policies, which have been in place for over a decade, and the integration of asylum seekers, notably thousands of Syrian refugees of Armenian origin settling in the country.

On the first day Abu-Fadil contributed the media perspective for journalism students, or those who expect to deal with media, with an initial session on the need for journalists to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking.

Magda Abu-Fadil tells students they need to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking

She demonstrated how they should become acquainted with various international organizations and NGOs that handle these issues and learn about laws, treaties, resolutions and conventions that have been adopted over the years to better frame their reports.

Armenians have emigrated to Russia for decades in search of greener pastures. They’ve also gone further afield to the United States, Canada, Europe and several Arab countries.

Lebanon, for example, boasts a sizeable Armenian community with Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent in all walks of life and actively involved in political affairs.

Perhaps the largest waves of the Armenian diaspora were triggered by the Muslim Ottoman genocide of Christian Armenians in the early 20th Century. It involved deporting and mass killing Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire by the “Young Turk” government during World War I. Modern Turkey has never acknowledged it as a genocide.

Armenia – Google Maps

Armenia has also experienced waves of displacement with Armenians moving internally as a result of earthquakes, to which the country is prone, as well as from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in today’s southwestern Azerbaijan, where a majority of ethnic Armenians live and are backed by the government in Yerevan, and where wars have been fought with the Republic of Azerbaijan, thereby forcing the residents to seek refuge elsewhere.

On the second day, Abu-Fadil delved into the details of how media should cover migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.

Media’s familiarization with migration and refugee-related organizations

That ranged from researching the story, dealing with data, and statistics from various sources, to interviewing techniques for questioning officials, migrants, refugees and human trafficking survivors, host communities, to examining case studies of good and bad reporting, and the use of social media in getting and telling the story.

On the last day, she turned to media ethics and how journalists should humanize the story by translating numbers and statistics into individuals with fears, hopes, failures, successes and resilience against tremendous odds.

The key, she said, was changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping. She provided tips on how to shoot pictures and videos in an ethical fashion given the impact of visual imagery across multiple digital platforms.

MU director on changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping

There was also the key element of verification, notably in the age of disinformation and alternative facts where migrants are often vilified based on fabricated accounts.

There was an exercise at the end of each session to test the students’ grasp of the media-related topics and all her presentations had embedded videos to better explain what the ideas and examples meant.

MU Director Equips Tunisian Media With Migration Coverage Know-How

Migration, refugees and human trafficking once again featured at a three-day workshop in Tunis grouping 16 journalists from various media who learned how to shape the story, focus the narrative, keep it ethical, and make it more relatable.

How to cover migration, refugees and human trafficking

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, cameraman/editor David Hands and senior media training and exchange expert at the Open Media Hub Petko Georgiev led the mini-course.

Magda Abu-Fadil and David Hands mentor Tunisian journalists during workshop on migration and media

It aimed at helping the reporters and editors better understand the subject, identify who the stakeholders are, acquire the correct terminology to define people and their status, know where to dig for contextual information, and what traps to avoid when reporting the story.

 

Tunisian journalists complete in-session exercise

The workshop in November 2018 included journalists from Tunisia’s national television channel, newspapers, news websites, the state-run national news agency and radio stations.

They had proposed story ideas to pursue prior to the training and several went out with Hands to shoot footage and conduct interviews during the sessions.

 

David Hands helps edit footage for a migration story

On their return to the mentoring periods the journalists were then guided by Hands and Georgiev on the mechanics of assembling the elements into viable short pieces for broadcast while Abu-Fadil pitched in advice on ethics and interviewing techniques.

The previous week Abu-Fadil moderated a panel at the Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis where some 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries gathered to probe the question: Journalism Useful for Citizens?

Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis drew 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries

The three-day event in the Tunisian capital – almost 50 thematic sessions, debates, exhibitions and side activities – comes at a critical time when freedom of expression is being tested and violated on a daily basis in many of the countries from which the delegates hailed.

Abu-Fadil chaired a session entitled “No Useful Journalism Without Verification: How Do We Confirm An Image, Information?” during which she also plugged the UNESCO book she co-authored “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” .

 

Abu-Fadil (right) chairs panels on verification

The Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis is supported financially and programmatically by the Open Media Hub, which is implemented by the Thomson Foundation.