Jack and Max, back from Malaga, share tips on sniffing out fake news!

From 10-17 December 2018, Eurocircle volunteers, Max and I, participated in the Erasmus training course in Malaga entitled Through the News, which explored the topic of fake news, alongside 22 other participants from 12 European countries. The seminars were held at La Noria centre in Malaga, and it was financed by Erasmus+ and organised by local youth mobility association, Imagina. The other participating organisations included PaRtier (Croatia), HYP (Greece), ARCI Strauss (Italy), GET INNOVATION BITOLA (Macedonia), Regionalne Centrum Wolontariatu (Poland), JVG (Portugal), Momentum World (United Kingdom), CSYD (Romania), Dom poznania (Slovakia), and KOZA (Turkey).

The idea for the course originated from a young Italian named Claudio. He was struck by the changes in the way individuals, especially young people, consume news and the dramatic rise of online news. While there have been benefits to this digital revolution, it has greatly increased the possibility of spreading false information and for the technology to be used in a threatening or abusive manner.

The aims of the course were to train and encourage young people to use media responsibly, to develop practical tools in order to detect false information, and to create an intercultural network of young people interested in journalism who are willing to share their opinions.

The seminars comprised of a wide variety of interactive group activities. These included participants having to present newspapers in their host countries, with Max and I presenting Charlie Hebdo, Libération, and Le Monde and the different ways in which they covered the so-called ‘‘Gilets Jaunes’’ protests. One of the most interesting moments of the week was learning how in Eastern and Southern European countries, journalists now often simply translate stories from international sources such as the BBC and republish them into their native languages.

We visited the local newspaper, Diario Sur, and asked journalists how they ensure all of their stories are accurate. In one example, there was a viral story about Muslims in Malaga protesting against Christmas lights. This story generated considerable anger in Malaga, which the Diario Sur team quickly debunked as fake news.

In one group session, we had to try to assess whether a story was genuine or not, using the guidelines that we had learned. To identify a fake news story, here are several steps you can take to determine its credibility:

  1. First, one can ask whether they are reading a reputable source, and if the source publishes credible stories.
  2. If the story appears to be fake, check to see whether it appears on other reputable sites.
  3. Check the date, as it could easily be a re-posted older news story.
  4. Does the domain name appear credible and secure? This is something you can check by clicking the lock symbol in the search bar.
  5. Next, check who the author is. It is never a good sign if the author isn’t named. You can also check to see if the named author has published anything else.
  6. As to the quality of the source, are there frequent spelling mistakes?
  7. Have the images been photoshopped? Again, this is something you can check via Google.
  8. Is the story highly sensational or absurd?
  9. Is it clearly trying to appeal to the prejudices of certain groups, perhaps supporters of a specific political party?
  10. Finally, a reader can even use fact-checking sources such as Les Décodeurs (FR), fullfact.org (UK) or factcheck.org (US).

Another memorable session was the joint-seminar led by British participants, freelance journalist, Meghan Brownrigg, and University of Westminster student, Teodora. Ms Brownrigg gave a highly informative and often amusing talk about her time as a BBC radio journalist and the problems of live-broadcasting, especially in situations such as public phone-ins, and the constant need to fact-check information before it can be broadcasted. Afterwards, Teodora spoke about the use of online images, videos, and music in relation to copyright law. She advised the group to always check the usage rights of an image via Google Images and to adhere to the necessary copyright regulations before using videos or music of a third party.

Perhaps the most remarkable sessions were those held by Italian course participant, Michele Laurelli, co-founder of the online Midnight Magazine based in Genoa which publishes artistic and social commentary. In a series of enthralling presentations worthy of Ted Talks, Mr Laurelli provocatively said that fake news should be viewed as a form of marketing. He gave a lecture as to how fake news spreads in society – often fuelled by societal divisions, and he explained the psychology and history of fake news and provided some useful terminology. Mr Laurelli argued that fake news cannot be banned, but rather it should be effectively challenged by educating people to ensure that they always check and question their news sources

Upon the course’s conclusion, participants were awarded with an Erasmus+ Youth Pass. Overall, it was a thoroughly enriching experience meeting and engaging with such intelligent participants from across Europe.

My key personal objectives going forward are to be more internet savvy, to challenge stereotypes more frequently, and to support quality print journalism whenever possible.

Jack Treacher, Eurocircle Service Civique Volunteer, Spring 2019