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Paying Attention to the Source of the News

06/25/2018 - 10h56

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PAULA CESARINO COSTA

Where are you reading this news? Are these your dad's Facebook posts or some guy's blog? Maybe they're retweets from strangers? Is it real or is it fake?

This irony is stamped on a campaign by the Columbia Journalism Review, the magazine of the College of Journalism of the University of Columbia (USA), and features black-and-white photos of people reading what appears to be a traditional daily newspaper, but in reality has the logo replaced by titles like "Your Dad's Facebook Posts" or "Some Guy's Blog".

Campaign from the Columbia Journalism Review Magazine, created by TBWZ/Chiat/Day, portraying a person reading a newspaper with the logo replaced by "Dad's Facebook Posts" - Reproduction

"These ads were created to make people think about the source of the news and to appreciate the difference between real news and everything else", explained Kyle Pope, the magazine's editor in chief, at the annual ONO (Organization of News Ombudsmen) conference in Holland at the beginning of June.

With the slogan Real Journalism Matters, the campaign created by the TBWA/Chiat/Day agency draws attention to the important of professional journalism and to the necessity of consulting trustworthy sources of information, in consonance with the concern of a significant portion of the world's population.

The stimulation of the debate over the credibility of newspapers and social media encourages news organizations like Folha to strive daily for the quality of what is published, avoiding the pitfall of fake news disseminators.

A report published recently by the Reuters Institute contains important data regarding the consumption of news content on digital media. After interviewing 74 thousand consumers of news content between 18 and 55 years of age from 37 countries on five continents, it found that 54% are very or extremely concerned about what is real and what is fake in the news that they read on the internet.

During this election year, Brazilians lead in the rankings: 85% say that they have this concern, which is especially true when they refer to what they read on social networks.

During the last 12 months, the average level of confidence and trust in news coverage in general has remained relatively stable, at 44%, in all of the countries surveyed. A little more than half (51%) of those interviewed confirmed that they trust the media and depend on it most of the time. On the other hand, 34% said that they trust in news that they find based on searches and less than one fourth (23%) said that they trust in news that they find on social media.

Brazil has 145 million voters and 130 million Facebook users. According to the report, Brazilians' love of social media is showing no signs of decline but there is a clear shift in preferences underway. Two thirds of those interviewed (66%) say that they use social media as a source of news, practically the same as in the year before.

However, the use of Facebook for this purpose fell from 69% to 52% in two years, while at the same time the use of WhatsApp (48%) and Instagram (16%) has grown. Brazil has the second largest Instagram user base in the world, with 50 million active monthly users. WhatsApp counts on 120 million users.

Another noteworthy fact is that the majority of this multitude (61%) have the habit of sharing news on social networks or via e-mail, and 38% post comments about it on social networks.

There is a lot of talk about the use of robots to spread lies, but researchers from MIT (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have discovered that individual people themselves are the principal vectors for the transmission of fake news.

After examining 126 stories with posts on Twitter between 2006 and 2017 by more than 3 million people more than 4.5 million times, the researchers also concluded that false allegations were 70% more likely to be shared than true information.

As the 2018 electoral campaign crawls along no amount of caution can be considered to be too much. The Reuters Institute survey revealed something critical: the perception among those interviewed that politicians are intentionally sowing confusion in order to damage the credibility of traditional news sources by constantly accusing them of spreading fake news.

Campaign from the Columbia Journalism Review Magazine, created by TBWZ/Chiat/Day, portraying a person reading a newspaper with the logo replaced by "Retweets from Strangers" - Reproduction

It's a crucial debate for the democratic system. Last week (June the 21st), the President of the TSE (Superior Electoral Tribunal), Luiz Fux, declared that if it were proven that fake news benefited a candidate to the extent of guaranteeing his victory, the Brazilian election results could go as far as being annulled.

"The legislation provides for the prohibition of abusive advertising. An advertisement aimed at destroying another candidate [falsely] counts as abuse of power and could lead to repeal", he declared.

The Electoral Court Justice is referring to an extreme circumstance which is highly unlikely to actually take place. The use of fake news - or its being employed as part of a captious political strategy - now threatens the heart of the democratic system.

This is the dimension of the imbroglio that journalism, journalists and media companies still appear to be far from knowing how to combat.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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