Dr. Sandrin Bodna, Head of the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University, gives tips on how to behave on social networks and in the media against fake news
Today, more than in any other era, one of the hottest battles in this war and in general - the battle for the consciousness of the local and regional public, and even more so for the consciousness of the international community, is taking place on social networks. At this time, when information is so accessible (perhaps even too much), and reaches the personal mobile phone of each and every one without proper filtering or supervision by an official verifying official, many questions arise regarding our ability to defend ourselves against false news.
Dr. Sandrin Bodna, head of the Department of Communication in the Faculty of Social Sciences, specializes in journalism research, with an emphasis on journalistic coverage of violence, conflicts and wars, and war photography from a comparative multinational perspective. Her publications concentrate on issues related to objective journalism, journalistic bias and the ritual role of news and iconic images in the news. We asked her about the ways to identify and deal with fake news, especially during wartime:
Is it possible to identify in real time if news is fake or real?
"The ability to identify fake news has become more complicated as a result of three interrelated phenomena," says Dr. Bodna. "The first phenomenon is the globalization of information. At the beginning of the nineties, cable television and satellite broadcasting appeared, which began a policy of broadcasting news 24/7. Immediate reporting of the happenings around the world leads, more than once, to the spread of false reports, and even established broadcasters have been manipulated by propaganda sources. The war in Iraq is a good example of this."
"The second phenomenon is the significant place that social media occupies in the production and distribution of information and news. In social media, we all effectively become creators and distributors of news. As a result, identifying the sources of information on social networks and assessing their credibility have become a Sisyphean effort. The third phenomenon is the introduction of artificial intelligence technologies and in particular the "Deepfake" technology. The increasing use of these technological means makes it very difficult to identify fabricated images."
"The important part of this question is the phrase "in real time". To identify whether news is fake or real, cross-reference sources should be used, along with forwarding requests to experts for content analysis. These are processes that take time. For example, in the recent case of the bombing of the hospital in Gaza, the foreign media rushed to publish the Hamas statement. Several days passed until the video of the explosion site was shown and until the experts' voices were heard. Because journalists and citizens are unable to detect fake news in real time, they need to be extra careful. The journalists must insist on the identity of the sources, assess their credibility and explain that the report may develop in accordance with an ongoing process of information verification."
"I know it's easier said than done, but on an individual level my advice is to avoid responding to false posts on social networks with emotional and endless responses, so that the fake/false post doesn't get more publicity than it already has."
What can you do when you encounter fake news on the Internet?
"It depends on the nature of the fake news, who created it and in what context. Most of the time, we will want to respond by publishing the real news, as well as by writing a response to whoever spread the fake news. Correcting the fake news seems like a natural and correct step to take, but the respondent must present convincing sources (institutional voices such as the UN, the European Union, or experts), and publish a link that connects his claims to qualified sources. Even then, our reaction to fake news may open an endless discussion, a dialogue of the deaf, which will only give more publicity to the fake news."
"In the case of the war with Hamas, Israelis who try to oppose the pro-Hamas propaganda may find themselves in a numerical minority. In social networks, the masses are the right ones - and not necessarily the truth tellers. If the fake news can be considered incitement or support for terrorism, you can copy the link, take a screenshot of the post and report it on the pages of websites that governments have opened so that the creators of the content can be identified and prosecuted. In addition, it is possible to report this on the reporting pages of the social networks, but it must be taken into account that the decision makers there sometimes reach surprising conclusions."
How can the mental damage of news that has already been distributed and influenced international public opinion be reduced, on a personal level as well as on a political level?
"I know it's easier said than done, but on an individual level my advice is to avoid responding to false posts on social networks with emotional and endless responses, so that the fake/false post doesn't get more publicity than it already has. Outside of social media, if we have the opportunity through personal interactions to act to correct the fake news, it may be more effective even if we reach, we feel, only a limited number of people. Even if we give concrete facts, exact numbers, historical background and successful versions of the content we want to convey to a small number of people, the chances are high that the people we talked to will reuse them in other social circles."
"At the government level: the authorized officials in the government and the military should respond quickly and accurately, as much as possible, and be transparent about what they know or don't know. But again, speed and accuracy can be challenging to accomplish, especially in wartime. Take for example the case that happened in 2000: a Palestinian boy named Muhammad al-Dura was caught in the crossfire between Palestinians and the IDF and was killed. The Israeli government then made the decision to respond quickly by acknowledging the IDF's responsibility and expressing regret for this mistake. The quick response was mainly due to a strategic calculation: an admission of guilt would close the case and encourage the public to move on to the next piece of news. But what happened is exactly the opposite - the media coverage of the event sparked the second intifada. After an investigation, the Israeli side claimed that the IDF was not responsible for killing the boy and to this day is fighting for them to accept his (new) version, but it seems that it is already too late. The second case is the killing of Shireen Abu Aqla in Gaza in 2022. This time the Israeli government decided to quickly release a statement denying its responsibility for the death of an Al Jazeera journalist. But then evidence piled up and the government had to admit that a mistake had been made. It is difficult to find the balance between speed, accuracy and transparency."
"Another strategy to reduce damage as a result of fake news is to discredit the source of the publication of the news based on past mistakes. Examples of fake news that have already been recognized as such can be used as a deterrent. Even the most reliable sources, like the New York Times, have spread fake news in the past. A well-known case is the Timisoara massacre in 1989: all the Western media published fake news about a mass massacre in Romania based on a fake picture of mass graves. Not only were the media influenced by each other, but journalists were also influenced by perceptions and prejudices: they expected Ceausescu to be some kind of evil dictator who orders mass murders and therefore tended to believe that a mass murder did take place, even if this accusation was based only on a picture."
"An example from the current war is the photograph shown at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Egypt: the image of a Palestinian baby girl in pink pajamas emerging from the ruins of a building. Some of the Western media made use of this photo, especially the French newspaper "Liberation". But then it turned out to be a fabricated image: the image of the baby girl was created by an artificial intelligence tool in February 2023. This should serve as a lesson. Unfortunately, during the second intifada the same French newspaper already made a similar mistake and put on the front page a picture of a Palestinian boy with blood running down his face. As it turned out, the boy was an American Jewish student who had just been lynched by a Palestinian mob. Maybe it's a faint hope, but if we remind the "Liberation" newspaper of its two big fake news stories, it might be a little more careful and alert to manipulation and propaganda attempts when it comes to spreading the next news."
More of the topic in Hayadan: