Combating Fake News Panel: Governments, along with journalists, media and the citizens, should be at the forefront of combating fake news

Apr 25, 2018 | Press Release

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The comprehensive agenda for one of the biggest regional events this year – the Digital Summit for the Western Balkan Countries, the first of its kind in the region, held on April 18-19 in Skopje at the Alexander Palace Hotel, was completed with a special workshop on the emergence of fake news, as an inevitable, side effect phenomenon of the global digitization.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov was the moderator of this closing session. After the introductory speech, he gave the floor to the Minister without Portfolio in the Government of the Republic of Macedonia in charge of Communications, Accountability and Transparency Robert Popovski, who addressed the past period and the effects of systemic distribution of fake news in our country.

“There is no greater enemy to truth than lies, but at the same time truth is the best response to the fake news,” he stressed, and then focused on the next steps the Government of the Republic of Macedonia plans to undertake in dealing with this phenomenon. Popovski expressed support for those working in the field of investigative journalism in the country and informed that the government has already undertaken measures, as part of the reforms in the media, in order to improve the situation in journalism, thus combating the fake news.

Matthew Jacobs, Digital Coordinator for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, responsible for combating fake news in this institution, defined the phenomenon of “fake news” as a deliberate undermining of democratic processes. According to his analysis, it is the users who are actually the ones actualizing the fake news, not the bots and other automated digital processes. Regarding the steps to be undertaken, he stressed that the solution must be focused on users rather than automated processes. Jacobs gave his final conclusion that governments need to improve the digital communication in general and that coordinated digital co-operation is key in this process.

BBC journalist and film producer Rachel Wright informed that there is an entire department in this media house working on verifying the facts, ensuring that the information that is being published/posted are correct. The work of the journalists is to be an objective filter of the events around us, but the phenomenon of “fake news” undermines this process, she said, concluding that journalists should “train” the citizens to be kind of journalists themselves in the process of seeking the truth and the facts.

Eric Burns, Communications and media strategist, concluded that fake news is actually an evolution of misinformation and that nowadays Facebook is the main source of news. He said that one fundamental problem in the whole situation is that people cannot agree on what “facts” actually are. Burns said that their journalists should remain to be journalists and that other, different services need to deal with the identification of the facts.

Paolo Cesarini from the European Commission told the panel that this phenomenon of fake news is far more extensive and deeper than just branding the phenomenon itself, and that the agendas behind this phenomenon are both political and economic. According to him, fake news greatly impacts not only the new media, but also the traditional ones.

Investigative journalist Sashka Cvetkovska stressed that every day we face overproduction of fake news and that it is a phenomenon that we don’t yet know enough about. The most important consequence of the fake news is the creation of lack of respect – both among journalists’ colleagues, as well as by the citizens towards the media and institutions. Her suggestion was that the solution must be interdisciplinary and involve different types of institutions.

At the end of the Combating Fake News Panel, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov concluded that this summit session is a good start, that now is the time to sit down and seriously discuss a strategy for combating fake news, and that the governments from the region and wider should basically be factors for finding a final solution.