What role can the press play ?

mardi 15 Déc 2020

By Matthieu Delaloye, Zarina Charlesworth, Shaban Shabani, Camille Pellaton

The global epidemic linked to Covid-19 has led to the spread of a great deal of false news, misinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories. In this context, the WHO declared at the beginning of February an « infodemia » which concerns the origin, the extent, as well as the prevention and treatment of the disease. This information is disseminated through social media as well as through some professional media and poses the threat to our health systems of a generalized distrust of certain publics, leading to the non-respect of health instructions.

On the other hand, citizens are demanding reliable information, at a time when information sources are multiplying and when everyone can become a content creator. Paradoxically, the infodemia is coupled with a form of strong return of expectations from traditional information players (press, public services). Peak attendance at Swiss Federal Council press conferences is proof of this. Several studies show that in Europe 90% of individuals say they get information at least once a day and 50% of those in between do so several times a day. Subscriptions to some national newspapers have soared. In normal times, the media are integrated into the social fabric and go almost unnoticed. In times of crisis, the 4th power plays an essential democratic role. The formation of citizens’ opinions cannot be achieved without independent and critical media, which report, question and put into perspective the news. When the diversity of the press becomes impoverished, our democracy is in peril.

Today, the fourth estate is shaken. The pressure on the so-called traditional media is pushing them to publish information quickly and to emphasize sensational content in order to attract the readership. In addition, some regional media have had to reduce their canopy because of declining advertising revenues in a context where the demand for information is greater. The unprecedented crisis shaking the media is putting the diversity and quality of information at risk. While Switzerland was able to count up to 406 paid newspapers in 1939, there are currently fewer than 200. This gradual melting of the media fabric must be put into perspective with the concentration of titles within a few large groups, whose objective is not always the wealth of information, and the increased dependence on international press groups.

Social networks also push typical user profiles to publish false or erroneous information. Our blog devotes an article to this very subject (link). This creates a kind of cynicism about information and politics. This mistrust towards political bodies and our decision-making bodies is very dangerous for our democracy. Indeed, if most citizens find themselves questioning and thinking that the information provided is false, this mistrust can jeopardize our democracy.

Also, the way in which the readership forms an opinion on the world has changed. They now often have to sort and filter the information themselves, but they are not always able to do so and avoid the unintentional dissemination of false news (fake news). Such misinformation has extremely negative effects.

Freedom of expression and debate are two fundamental elements of our democracy.

Where Does Fake News Come From ?

lundi 16 Nov 2020

By Matthieu Delaloye, Zarina Charlesworth, Shaban Shabani, Camille Pellaton

The word « fake news » no longer holds any secrets for most of us. We have heard a lot about it during the recent American Presidential election or in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. This buzz word refers to false or misleading information disseminated with the aim of manipulating or deceiving the public.

It has taken on increasing importance in the age of the Internet where anyone can be a creator of online content.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a good deal of misinformation flourish, linked, among other things, to a lack of knowledge of the virus and the lack of empirical research on the subject. In February 2020, T.A.Ghebreyesus, DG-WHO first spoke of a COVID-19 infodemic (link) sounding the alarm even highlighting the riskof hindering  the fight against the virus. More recently, a joint statement on managing the CCOVID-19 infodemic was released by WHO, UN, UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNAIDS,ITU, UN Global Pulse, and IFRC (https://www.who.int/news/item/23-09-2020-managing-the-covid-19-infodemic-promoting-healthy-behaviours-and-mitigating-the-harm-from-misinformation-and-disinformation ) indicating the proportions that this infodemic has taken on.

There are a number of solutions to combat this infodemic. One of them is to allow trusted professionals to debunk the information.  Another solution is to push governments to highlight verified and quality content. It is also important to integrate wary people and create a healthy space for debate around a topic. Finally one can also encourage individuals to check the information before passing it on.

In order to eradicate this behaviour, it is important to go back to the source of dissemination. In this context, Marianna Spring of the BBC, has identified seven typical profiles of Internet users who contribute to the spread of fake news and misinformation.

7 typical profiles

The Joker

A real prankster,  the joker likes to make people laugh. He takes advantage of unclear situations to joke around. His behaviour is not ill-intentioned, but rather seeks to entertain by creating game-like content.. He likes to have his content disseminated online and through social mediaand analyses the reactions it provokes. Some call him a troll.

The Professional scammer

For him, fake news is a livelihood. He publishes content to create cyber-scams. He  is creativite and can easily trick one even leading the  reader to malicious websites.

The Politician

We know how difficult it is to untangle true from false in a political debate… online  it is no easier. The politician will deliberately mislead readers to get an idea or a concept across. The information is rarely completely false but often out of context.

The Conspiracy theorist

Conspiracy theories have become increasingly frequent during the Coronavirus pandemic. The conspiracy theorist builds on his theories, all scientifically unproven, with  new information as it becomes available. He firmly believes in the truth of what he put forward and shares the information with as many people as possible to alert them.

The  Expert

We’re all looking for the ultimate expert who knows a subject from start to finish. But we must also be wary of this, especially the information is in the third person « I know a specialist ». The information if often distorted  making it difficult to identify the source. Although it imay be trustworthy, its content is rarely verifiable.Well-intentioned Family & Friends

Family and friends tend create a trusted social circle but be wary of it. Such groups can be full of false and unverified information. The participants do not have mean to spread misinformation but rather want to warn others. The shared content can be very impactful-,

The Star

We have all heard about the super spreaders of the COVID-19 virus Well this is also true of the spread of fake news. Stars, celebrities and influencers with millions of subscribers seek to  grow their communities, sometimes spreading fake news and misinformation.

And you, do you see other profiles forfake news and misinformation spreaders?

Want to avoid being caught up in this the Keep your eyes open, be wary, criticize, compare, form an opinion based on several sources and use SAMS!


vendredi 02 Oct 2020

By Zarina Charlesworth, Matthieu Delaloye, Shaban Shabani, Camille Pellaton, September 2020

Did you hear???? Did you see??? Be careful!!! Better do this!!! Don’t do that!!!

Whether your reaction is Oh cool, I’ll pass this information on to Oh no, I’d better let everyone know to Just forget it why not check to see the truth in it?

In the new normal of 2020 not only are we dealing with a pandemic but we are also experiencing an infodemic. In other words a massive overdose of information spreading virally, largely through social media channels and infecting many of us. Much of this information ranges from useless but relatively harmless to very dangerous with sometimes-fatal effects. The question being asked by a group of researchers at the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland // HES-SO is how to prevent the spread of such news in an effective, user-friendly manner.

Despite the availability of fact-checking services such as https://www.snopes.com/; https://www.politifact.com/; https://www.factcheck.org/ ; https://www.hoaxbuster.com/; http://www.hoaxkiller.fr/; research (Brandtzaeg & Folstad: 2017; Hendricks & Vestergaard: 2019), suggests that there is a high level of distrust for such services. Welcome then to the world of do-it-yourself fact-checking through the use of:


SAMS, for Source, Author, Message, Spelling is a user-friendly responsive web application for fact-checking currently undergoing development to take it past the prototype stage. The app was developed in response to the April VersusVirus Hackathon https://www.versusvirus.ch/blog/sams and can be accessed here http://versusvirus.ig.he-arc.ch/. Due to the positive response, we have decided to take the project one-step further. The objectives are to have an app that will:

  • help users to detect fake news;
  • provide fact checking guidelines;
  • recommend related trustworthy sources

As we work on the app we were hoping to arouse your interest and take you on this journey with us through regular blog posts related to fake news and fact-checking. The app will be available before year-end but in the meantime, here are some tips and tricks to help you better sort the real from the fake.

Source : Taking a critical look at the source, both in and of the news, is the first step.

What to check for :

  • Where did the information originate (e.g. WHO World Health Organization)
    • A reverse search confirms the source
    • The web address is correct
    • The « About us » section of the source media confirms reliability
  • Sources referred to (a group of researchers vs. a named individual or institution)
    • In-text references and quotes can be sourced
    • Avoid anonymous sources
  • How you got access to the information (on Facebook)

Author: Is the author a trusted source? Possibly journalist / news agency; government agency, etc…

What to check for :

  • Author names mentioned
  • Other references to the same author to confirm credibility
  • Author’s professional affiliations, academic or professional credentials
  • Other or related publications by the same author

Message: The message should be clear, balanced and unbiased.

What to check for :

  • Unsupported or outrageous claims
  • A push to share the information
  • A lack of quotes, references or contributing sources
  • Headlines that provoke strong emotions
  • Ease of cross-checking in multiple & reputable sources

Spelling : Reputable sources will proofread material prior to publishing.

What to check for :

  • Repeated spelling mistakes
  • Poor grammar
  • Incorrect punctuation
  • Use of different fonts
  • Entire words/phrases written in CAPITAL LETTERS