This is a necessary step for all social media users, but such an action is also necessary for citizens who are informed by the traditional media, or by web online media portals. In the case of portals, radio or television stations, citizens should verify the news by searching for it in several sources and paying attention to the sources on which the news is built.
Disinformation can be even more alarming when it is done by journalists, which happens in Kosovo, but the phenomenon is symptomatic to many other countries, too, and well beyond Central and Eastern Europe. Journalists are by definition, ones who have the special duty to keep the society well-informed. Yet, many forget that this also means verifying any information they receive and publish in the media. If a journalist publishes unverified information in public, then she/he/they risk contributing to the contamination of the information environment in our societies. Unfortunately, I can confirm we have such cases in my homeland, Kosovo. They are not in large numbers, but still, they should be criticized and denounced out loud, not for the mere fact that they should not be repeated or to save citizens from disinformation, but for the sake of protecting an image of journalist profession in the society, the image that's risking being seriously tarnished.
The case of misinformation about an Albanian famous artist, Mirush Kabashi, is one of examples that prove the lack of care and, let's put it bluntly - laziness of some journalists, who without taking the effort to take the first step in the work of every media professional, which is the verification of information, have published misinformation about his death. This, in effect had caused an uproar from the public who had believed it to be true. With this example in mind, we can draw two important conclusions. Firstly, the non-compliance with professional journalism standards, and the rush to publishing information without verifying it, continue to undermine the core mission of journalism. Secondly, it is all related to a wider society and its unpreparedness in regards to media content received, as well as the general lack of critical judgment of information, whatever its nature.
Now, let's look at how the effects of above-mentioned misinformation on the alleged death of Mirush Kabashi, or any given misinformation/disinformation about another important public persona, be it social, political or art-affiliated. It can provoke different reactions in the society and affect the individual well-being. It can also cause revolts and disturbances of public order, it can even affect the course of a political or social process. This is exactly why this social phenomenon reveals the urge for an increased media literacy, and highlights the need for upholding some of the skills, which we should not be taking for granted e.g., understanding the media, analyzing its content, and use of the media, to reach out to to all parts of society as quickly as possible. It seems that if the current situation persists, we will continue to live in a society that is manipulation-prone and generally lacks critical judgment. In order to fight the disinformation present in the media, we need a focused social and professional reaction, so that we can create less favourable conditions for its spread.
To conclude, in the case of Mirush Kabashi, the citizens had believed the misinformation, although the news was not supported by any nor credible sources. This very issue is raised in the model of three basic questions, which is built for citizens, but in today's media environment, it also applies to journalists, who often source the information they post on social media, or receive it a news from another media outlet, but they do not verify it. Instead, they choose to further convey these distorted messages to their audiences. In effect, this also damages the reputation of the journalist, journalism and the mass-media as a whole, which is under the total scrutiny anyway, as well as being a further target of the set of policies branding all media as 'fake news'. This does not any good to journalism, which aim is keep our societies informed. It does the opposite, contributing to further dis-informing and misinforming.
So, journalists, before reporting, please go through at least two of the Model's three questions, namely: who is the source of the information and which official sources it relies on? And, if you want to find out more about cheapfakes, deepfakes and other major media manipulation threats, please check TechSoup Europe's timely webinar, where I'm speaking alongside some other experts from Poland and Romania.
There's never been a greater need for accurate, verified information. We can all play our part in stopping the spread of harmful information.
Background illustration: Photo by Seventyfour from Adobe Stock / Adobe Stock license