‘Fake news’ tends to lead to intentional misunderstanding and create a toxic environment for information. There is a need to examine the fight against misinformation, that has become one of the major challenges for Europe in the recent years. Numerous strategies have offered voices for the migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to be heard in order to address toxic narratives against them.
‘Fake news’ is a term that different people use in their own and separate ways to define it, resulting to a plethora of conceptual definitions. At its core, it includes those news stories that are false: the story itself is fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources, or quotes. Sometimes these stories may be propaganda that is intentionally designed to mislead the reader or may be designed as “clickbait” written for economic incentives (the writer profits on the number of people who click on the story). In recent years, ‘fake news’ stories have proliferated via social media, in part due to the ease and immediacy of sharing any kind of material online. The universe of ‘fake news’ is much larger than simply false news stories. Some stories may have a nugget of truth but lack any contextualizing details. They may not include any verifiable facts or sources. Some stories may include basic verifiable facts, but are written using language that is deliberately inflammatory, concealing pertinent details or only presenting one viewpoint. ‘Fake news’ exists within a larger ecosystem of mis- and disinformation. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is mistakenly or inadvertently created or spread; the intent is not to deceive. Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created and spread “in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth”.
According to the European Commission Public Consultation on Disinformation and ‘Fake News’ in 2018, more than 97% of the participants reported to have come across ‘fake news’ at least once. Therefore, since 2018, the European Commission has been working on implementing a set of counteractions to address the increasing spread of online disinformation across EU Member States ensuring the protection of European values and democratic systems. Moreover, various actions, dialogues and working groups have been scheduled based on the Action Plan against Disinformation published by DG CONNECT.
The EU-funded PERCEPTIONS project addresses the issue of disinformation that can harm migrants who take on a dangerous journey or are the recipients of false expectations and misleading narratives. Furthermore, it highlights potential misperceptions among policy makers and practitioners, who might have an incomplete understanding of migrants’ knowledge of Europe, as well as their motivations and aspirations. Moreover, the project identifies, presents and reports good practices, measures, tools and policy recommendations that have been implemented and promoted in several EU and third countries aiming to tackle this phenomenon. The project gathers 14 strategies of different stakeholders, including UNESCO and Fundamental Rights Agency, almost evenly distributed among their years of release (2015-2019), with their level of implementation to be mostly on an International (42%) and European (35%) level. They mainly refer to journalism providing platforms for the migrants themselves to be represented in order to address toxic narratives against them, as well as to the ethical code that journalists have to follow in this regard.
More concretely, some strategies propose the creation of joint platforms for media operating in certain territories to offer migrants a chance to self-regulate as well as the organization of trainings and workshops on this subject. Others focus on bringing together the communities of media professionals and refugees so as to examine how refugees and migrants could be heard and influence coverage of issues affecting their lives and to examine standards that would promote reporting that respects refugees and migrants. A few other strategies include policy recommendations to update the current legal framework in the EU in order to counter false narratives. A handbook was also designed to give journalism educators and trainers, along with students of journalism, a concrete framework and lessons to support them to navigate the issues associated with ‘fake news’. Online campaigns intended to counter the wide-spread stereotypes that can occur by presenting a distorted and often negative image of migrants by media and social media platforms, by educating the public and highlighting the techniques used, are also promoted. Additionally, among other practices, a study provides recommendations including trainings to journalists, chief editors and journalism students on migration, redefining the media’s sources and work more closely with researchers, academics and research centres or authorities, forging more partnerships with NGOs, creating room for discussion with the local authorities in order to be kept constantly informed as well as compiling a migration glossary of the terms used. Another good practice identified is an early warning system that focuses on digital monitoring, impact analysis based on the potential goal of the disinformation, its potential impact, reach, and finally tracking outcomes. Finally, there has been reported a project aimed at providing media literacy to students and young people from a low socio-economic background, including their parents and grandparents.
Bringing in light the combat of distorted or fake information about refugees and migrants, the PERCEPTIONS project reviews these ‘fake news’ and provides detailed insights on the strategies set in place to tackle them.
Author: Katerina Georgakopoulou
Summary report of the public consultation on fake news and online disinformation (European Commission, 2018).
European Commission contribution to the European Council Action Plan against Disinformation (European Commission, 2018).
Perceptions, migrants, fake news, strategies, media, platforms, practices, policy, disinformation