Decline of critical thinking and rise of disinformation, propaganda, and hate speech

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“The Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens – Crithink” project, implemented by Metamorphosis Foundation and Eurothink with the support from the European Union, as part of the Media Literacy Days in North Macedonia, yesterday held a public panel discussion on the results of research on media literacy and critical thinking conducted in the previous year.

“The worsened financial situation of the media reflects with a low-quality journalism content, weak products, and accordingly low interest for employment. The worsened financial situation of the media is making the media workers very vulnerable and subjects to direct or indirect pressures. Most of the respondents think that the attractiveness of journalism as a profession is dropping constantly, the perception of low wages and bad working conditions is dominating, there is mistrust towards journalism as a profession including a drop in the journalistic standards and the freedom of expression. Half of the respondents consider that the political parties are the biggest source of pressure,” concludes the research conducted by Metamorphosis and Eurothink, and was presented by Ivan Stefanovski.

Regarding the freedom of speech, Stefanovski also said that a huge step forward was made in the period from 2017 until today, but still, even according to the report from the European Commission, there is more that needs to be done. Regarding investigative journalism, it was determined that both financial capacities and the human resources are lacking, and almost all of the respondents have replied that additional skills, knowledge, and journalist training are necessary including greater media literacy for the citizens.

Vesna Nikodinoska presented the research conducted by the Macedonian Institute for Media – MIM which states that hate speech, propaganda, and disinformation have marked a long and dark period in the political and media spheres during the period between 2008-2016, and these were again evident during this year as they are on the rise especially on the Internet.

“There are media that openly support political options, spread disinformation, and half-truths for the benefit of political centers of power. Several cases were noticed where journalists and editors were subject to threats, insults, and foul language, and hate speech through online media and social networks. Internet media aren’t subject to a media regulation and most of them which have no transparent ownership aren’t part of the self-regulatory instruments. The hate speech also endures because of the impunity and the passiveness of the authorized institutions,” said Nikodinoska.

She even stressed the role of companies as advertisers at online media and noticed those that continuously violate professional and ethical standards have more adverts than the informative portals. During the debate the importance of social responsibility on part of the big advertisers was stressed i.e. they should be aware of where they are advertising themselves and to support the true values of professional journalism.

Gjorgji Mitrevski from the Research Institute on Social Development RESIS presented researches made by the Agency for Audio and Audio-Visual Services including OSCE where they presented the habits of the citizens in relation to traditional media and the Internet as sources of information, including the age group that is using the Internet as a source of information.

An interesting conclusion from this presentation is that 72% of the respondents receive the information through the Internet, but are checking these through the interactions with friends i.e. people from the closest surroundings, and not through their own authentic channels.

“The TV is a dominant medium among the traditional ones and 83 % of the respondents inform themselves through TV. But an equal percentage of respondents are accessing the Internet for information. More than 76 % of the respondents are informing themselves on an everyday basis from the TV and Internet. About 89% inform themselves from posts on Facebook, 59% from news aggregators, 49% are visiting the news portals directly,” states part of the research presented by Mitrevski.

The findings have also shown that the citizens have an equal mistrust towards informing themselves both from the broadcasters and the portals.

About 60% of the respondents have replied that the news from the portals is politically colored, consider the events as constructed, and untrue stories are presented. The public is noticing constructed and false information. Over 50% of the respondents are checking the truthfulness through conversations with close acquaintances and only a small percentage is checking them through research and comparison with relevant sources,” said Mitrevski.

Petrit Sarachini’s CIVIL – Center for Freedom organization which was observing the pre-election period, stressed that during the 21-day political campaign there were at least four efforts for organized action by orchestrated publishing of content with hate speech, disinformation, false news on online media and social networks with the goal to discredit, efforts for attacks on political opponents, and often attacks on persons who didn’t participate in the election process.

“The propaganda, disinformation, and the hatred present in the online media and the social networks are causing divisions among the citizens and that is manifesting through hate speech and threats. Very often, the hatred from the virtual world is spilling into reality resulting in incidents, threats with weapons, vandalism, attacks, violence. The state hasn’t neither enough mechanisms to deal with disinformation nor that mechanism that we have at our disposal are used accordingly to decrease the series of felonies,” said Sarachini.

He also said that we have little but not enough successes for self-regulation among the media since those that are creating provocative content are not part of the self-regulatory mechanisms.

During the discussion, prof. Žaneta Trpeska, PhD, from RESIS pointed out the importance of the integrity of research efforts, and informed the public that RESIS has started an initiative for adoption of code of ethics relevant to research activities within the Media Literacy Network, which would cover aspects of protection of human rights of people being surveyed, as well as aspects of transparency and accountability towards the audience.