25 elderly people from the villages of Floritoaia Veche, Floritoaia Noua, and Grozasca from Ungheni District took part in a media education workshop where they learned what should be paid attention to when reading the press, listening to the radio, watching TV, or browsing social networks, in order to avoid manipulation or disinformation. The event was organized on April 18, 2023, by the Independent Journalism Center (IJC) in Floritoaia Veche Village, Ungheni District.
“We live in an informational ocean. Every day, we deal with dozens and hundreds of elements of information at home, at work, or in public transport, because we would like to be aware of everything that happens around us. At the same time, it feels like taking an exam. How many of us are capable of successfully passing the test on the topic of correct information and how many would fail because they would not be able to choose which information is useful to them and which misinforms or manipulates them?” Victoria Tataru, program coordinator (IJC), said at the inauguration of the event.
Journalist Diana Raileanu, coach at the Media Education Workshop, provides many examples from her own experience to explain why media skills and critical thinking are necessary for persons of any age. “When you say the word ‘apple’ how do you imagine it? White, red, green, or two-colored? This is exactly what happens in the press, when a journalist who prepares a news story needs to sum up the opinions of as many persons as possible, without being able to offer the public all the details related to the topic. What happens? If the broadcast/published message is incomplete, it could be perceived as erroneous. The journalist, intentionally or due to the lack of professionalism, has failed to make a news item complying with all the rules. Finally, everybody understands, interprets, comments upon, and shares the information in their own way. The message becomes distorted, erroneous, and the public will be misinformed or manipulated about an event which has taken place,” the journalist explained.
To help the Media Education Workshop participants understand how message distortion occurs, Diana Raileanu challenged them to join an interactive activity. The effect was obvious. While spreading a simple message from one person to another, the participants became convinced that much content from the original source could be lost.
“If you come across a news item which refers to a close source, without clearly mentioning who this source is, ask yourself a question, because it means that the information may or may not be true. When we go to buy a pair of shoes, we try them on 7 times. We have to do the same when we deal with the news. The point is that we have to ask questions as often as we need to get some information. Critical thinking is a weapon against manipulation and disinformation,” Diana Raileanu said.
Natalia Junghietu, “Expresul” independent publication director from Ungheni, spoke extensively about the fake news phenomenon, reminding us of several rules which teach us to think critically and to protect ourselves from fake information.
“What is fake news? What is the purpose of spreading fake news? Why do people believe lies? When we open a newspaper, watch a newscast, or browse social networks, we expect to read real news covering the events/facts that have really happened. Everyone expects to be informed correctly. But it doesn’t always happen this way. Unfortunately, some news items can be fake ones; they are aimed at misleading public opinion, manipulating it. To make a fake news item, you need to have a little imagination and 5 minutes. It takes a week to investigate a forgery, and the effect is delayed because the public which has already been intoxicated may no longer be interested in finding out the truth,” Natalia Junghietu said.
She urged the Media Education Workshop participants to always check the information using multiple sources and to draw their own conclusions. “Fake news is often more attractive and impressive. It arouses our emotions and exploits our feelings. Fake news can have serious consequences for public opinion, because it can result in making wrong decisions or causing social and political tension. It is very important to have a critical attitude towards the information we receive every day,” Natalia Junghietu concluded.
Eager to communicate and interested in the topics discussed during the event, the participants took part in the discussions, asked questions, and expressed their thoughts and hopes that they would cope with the challenges related to the media and the information on social networks better.
Sergiu Margarint, Floritoaia Veche Community Mayor: As a mayor, I often have to deal with various issues and, I admit, I also ask myself whether I have the primary source of information, whether I am correctly informed, so that I could tell the truth to the citizens. Nowadays, it is hard to find out what the real state of things is. I’m glad that you promote critical thinking and educate the public so that they could know the truth. You are right when you say that an informed person is a strong person!
Vitalie Mocanu, Chief Police Inspector, Floritoaia Veche village sector: Article 70 of the Contravention Code of the Republic of Moldova refers to slander and stipulates that knowingly spreading false information which defames another person is punishable. For the police representatives, it is clear that any information should be verified thoroughly, using direct sources. I welcome the idea of analyzing the information carefully before sharing it.
Mihaela Cucu, community social assistant, Grozasca Village: Today I’ve fully realized the idea I’ve been having for a long while – people don’t know which competent authorities have correct information, which sources are official; they don’t have enough patience to check the information and to be informed correctly. Most people believe the rumors circulating in the neighborhood. As a social worker, I’m often faced with such situations: ‘I’ve heard on the TV that you have to give me social assistance!’ ‘Wait a bit, who has told you that, where have you heard it?’ Even if there are some news articles about granting social assistance, the beneficiaries often don’t understand their essence, they don’t know that a specific law/decision must be approved, it has to come into force, and then an order has to be issued to allow us to do the work in question. People need to be instructed; only in this case, our society will benefit from it.
Maria Cirimpei, retired, former primary school teacher, Floritoaia Veche Village: I taught several generations of children. In the past, other issues were predominant in education, and nowadays, we understand that there is an urgent need for people to be educated from the point of view of the information they consume, to have some fundamental knowledge in this sphere, to see/to know the reality clearly not to be misled, especially on the social networks. The information we have received today is extremely beneficial to us.
Alexandra Usurelu, retired, saleswoman, Floritoaia Veche Village: It often happens that when people come to buy something, they also bring the latest news they’ve heard on their way to the store. I used to tell them until now: do you believe that what you’ve heard is true? The journalists’ visit has given me the answers to some questions which I never even thought about before. They will certainly be useful to me.
Iulia Gorincioi, head of the cultural center, Floritoaia Veche Village: Every day, I interact with lots of people and hear lots of news. What I have realized today is that you have to question everything before you believe it and share it.
Lidia Bolisoi, retired, leader of the ‘Tarancutele’ folklore group, Floritoaia Veche Village: In my own way, I’m attentive to what is being said. I don’t even watch what I don’t like. On my social network page, I only add those I know or recommended by someone as friends. If someone calls me on the phone and announces that I’ve won something I’ve no idea of I just hang up not to be deceived. Life experience probably helps me. I’m glad I’m sensible and make the decisions which are right for me.
The activity is part of the project „Building social cohesion in Moldova through promoting inclusion and diminishing discrimination” by the Independent Journalism Center as part of the program „Joint Initiative for Equal Opportunities – Phase II”, implemented from the resources provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).