Community Mediators Have Learned to Distinguish Disinformation and Manipulation

15 community mediators from various localities of the country joined a media education workshop during which they learned to distinguish disinformation and manipulation in the public space. The event was organized by the Independent Journalism Center (IJC) on November 28, 2023.

At the inauguration of the workshop, Victoria Tataru, IJC program coordinator, compared fake news to a snowball which gets bigger as it keeps rolling. “Today, we would like to offer you some information about what media education is and why it is important to use a sort of the vigilance filter for what we read, hear, see, or watch on the social networks. This is crucial, because, as information technologies keep developing, it becomes much more difficult to understand media messages and to be able to tell the fake news from the true ones. We can only cope with this great challenge if we develop our analytical and critical thinking skills,” she mentioned.

The trainer Loretta Handrabura, doctor of philology, co-author of the Media Education textbooks, and journalist Galina Vasilieva, editor-in-chief of the NewsMaker.md online publication, informed the community mediators about general notions in the sphere of the media, urging them to consider their own media experience as content consumers and creators.

“We expect media sources to provide correct, clear, and concise information. But does all the information we notice around us meet these criteria? We always have to consider the quality and correctness of the information. Like fast food which is far from healthy, we also see low-quality information which misleads us and intoxicates us in an informational way,” Loretta Handrabura explained.

Speaking about the power and role of the media in the 21st century, she asked the participants to answer several questions related to the media channels they had access to, the media products they used, and their positive/negative experiences related to the media. In addition, based on a case study and a practical exercise, the community mediators analyzed the way public opinion could be manipulated by low-quality information, including by using fake images.

The expert also emphasized the fact that all of us are not merely information consumers, but also media content creators. “Every one of us, when we post something on a Facebook page, becomes a media creator by means of writing or sharing messages. You should always ask yourself: is the information you share true or false? Fake news also circulates due to our careless attitude. Instead of verifying the information, we appreciate it and share it again, multiplying lies this way. Avoid spreading any information you read until you have searched for it in several sources, until you have a proof. Otherwise, we promote falsehoods and misinform the others, intentionally or unintentionally. There are multiple pitfalls, hence, we should be vigilant not to be misled by toxic information,” Loretta Handrabura said.

Galina Vasilieva, journalist at the NewsMaker.md news outlet, explained what responsible journalism implies and how false information emerges in the public space, why people tend to believe it, and why countering it is so complicated.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as during Russia’s war against Ukraine, people have been living in some parallel realities. People from the same country see the situation in quite different ways, and this is the impact of manipulation and misinformation. Vulnerable groups frequently become both victims and targets of manipulation and disinformation,” Galina Vasilieva said.

The journalist explained the way a fake news item is produced, what it is based on, and how one could tell the truth from the untruth. “Fake news items are lies which hit their target. Why does it happen? Because those who generate them know who they create them for quite well. Fake news is based on certain economic, political, or propaganda purposes. Manipulators, as a rule, take phobias and stereotypes existing in society into account. When fake news is spread it is based on topics which are likely to stir some emotions. A successful fake news item is based on a real fact, quote, statement, event, etc. Manipulators add whatever they would like to convey to it. Subsequently, all these ingredients are mixed and supplemented with quotes, infographics, or ‘experts’’ opinions, all of which are aimed at provoking emotions,” Galina Vasilieva explained.

At the end, she demonstrated some video and text materials from the national media in which certain vulnerable groups were discriminated against and which contained incitement to inter-ethnic hatred. “Journalists can misinform and simultaneously discriminate against specific vulnerable groups, but they can also contribute to vulnerable groups’ integration when they do not use any clichés, discriminatory words, or stereotypical definitions, avoid mentioning aggressors’ ethnic origin, etc.,” Galina Vasilieva concluded.

The workshop participants highly appreciated the value of the information provided, realizing how important it is to obtain information from reliable sources, to check the information, and to share it only when its reliability is confirmed.

Valeriu Caldararu, Executive Director of the National Association of Community Mediators (NACM):

I consider this workshop to be very welcome, because we as community mediators and the local public administration staff have a mission to facilitate the Roma people’s access to various services, which includes contributing to increasing the level of the population’s information and education. In this sense, it is quite important to know how to obtain correct information in order to help the beneficiaries from our communities to get correct, verified, well-documented, and complete information later.”

Sergiu Bugai, program manager at the NACM:

Even though I was aware of certain issues about propaganda, manipulation, and disinformation, today, I have had an opportunity to discover new, updated, and very useful information for the Roma community and for myself. We have learned how to verify news stories and images and how fake news and video deepfakes are created. I have listed several web resources I can address in order to avoid disinformation. What would I like to see in the future? I would like these topics to be discussed during more extended events.”

Elena Bogdan, Hancesti Municipality, community mediator:

We have had an interesting discussion with a lot of useful information. This is my first interaction with the sphere of media education, and I guess a few days’ workshop would be welcome. Many notions were unknown to me, and I would be glad to learn more about them. I am sure the information I have received today will greatly assist me in my activity.”

Nina Rau, Raspopeni Village, Soldanesti District, community mediator:

The workshop was a challenge for me, and I have to admit I would like to attend its continuation. We have learned what fake information is and how manipulation and disinformation take place. I would like to share the knowledge I have gained with the Roma population in the village.”

Ana Mazic, Ciniseuti Village, Rezina District, community mediator:

The workshop we have attended is very useful and quite important for my activity as a community mediator. I have learned how to obtain information efficiently, and how to be better and correctly informed. I have realized how I could help the beneficiaries when they encounter certain information or communication issues. In the Republic of Moldova, we still have loads of work to do in terms of media culture, but due to such discussions, we will be able to reach some progress.”

Elena Radita, Rascani Town, community mediator:

Social media plays an important part in our lives. Many people I know receive information mainly from these networks. But this is where the most dubious and unverified information circulates, as far as I have understood. I will warn those I interact with not to fall into the trap of fake news. Besides, I will tell them to get informed first, to pay more attention to what is written in the news, and only after that, to share this information if they are sure it is true.”

The event was organized in partnership with the National Association of Community Mediators (NACM).

The media education workshop was organized within the  project „Building cohesion in Moldova through promoting social inclusion and diminishing discrimination” implemented by the Independent Journalism Center within the program “Joint Equal Opportunity Initiative – Phase II” implemented with the support of the Government of Switzerland.

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