Q&A  | 

Gear up against disinformation, with Carmela Ríos

"Today, it is impossible to be a journalist without verification methods."

Tags: 'Carmela Ríos' 'Desinformación' 'Tecnología'

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Carmela Ríos is a professor and consultant at various universities and institutions in different areas that deal with social media: from Information factchecking to journalism on mobile devices and social media, through the latter as a working tool for journalism.

In addition, she is a reference for her dissemination work on Twitter on how the polarization and misinformation emerging from social media impact politics.

Previously, Ríos worked as a written and tv journalist for more than 20 years.

How does disinformation impact our life?

Disinformation is very much present in our lives; as a matter of fact, it is one of the focuses of my personal life and my work.

It is a wide phenomenon that impacts the private sphere, as we all have witnessed in certain WhatsApp groups where, suddenly, the mood gets tense. We are caught off-guard by relatives or friends who are more openly radical than ever and especially unreceptive if they are told that they are sharing some false piece of information.

As long as the platforms business model is based on advertising and data extraction, can we expect them to counter misinformation?

Technological platforms have a historical responsibility when it comes to deactivating the mechanisms that, within their structures, produce and magnify disinformation and hate campaigns and change the perception of reality by millions of people around the world.

Nobody was aware of the critical role that technological platforms would have in the emergence of disorderly and dangerous political environments, but now we know it. We need business models that have no tolerance with practices that turn social networks and other platforms into a kind of “Wild West” where might is right.

Lately the media have focused on the attack on the Capitol and Covid19 as cases of disinformation campaigns but, which disinformation campaigns are we specially not aware of today?

There are many examples, but I would highlight those identical “wild card” campaigns that arise in different parts of the world.

Disinformation campaigns before an electoral process designed to arouse suspicions about postal voting such as the latter being controlled by the government.

These tactics seek to discourage voting and have been displayed in the 2020 US elections as well as the Catalan and Madrid regional elections of this same year.

A study carried out by the University of Utah in the United States concludes that most Americans are not capable of detecting fake news, even if they believe they are. Do you think this is a global phenomena? How can technology help us detect fake news?

Indeed, a large part of the world’s population is exposed to increasing rations of misinformation.

Some studies even say that from next year on, Americans will receive more false than true information each day.

There is hope in the use of technology as dozens of organizations, universities and foundations around the world develop products that help detect or alert about hoaxes.

Botometer, by the University of Indiana, helps identify whether the activity of a Twitter account is real or automated. The  Maldita Hemeroteca bot for WhatsApp was granted European Press Prize in the Innovation category.

Facebook detected and deleted 4,500 million fake user profiles during the first 9 months of 2020. How critical are fake profiles to disinformation?

There is a worrying lack of knowledge about the extent of the phenomenon of disinformation and all the actors involved in it, such as fake user profiles.

The media and public authorities have a lot of work ahead so that we can achieve general awareness. Users have no training nor tools to tell the nature of the profiles that spread the news, memes or rumors that end up on their mobiles.

Fake profiles will always exist but they will be less harmful to the extent that citizens know how to detect them and understand that they are being deceived.

How do you spot fake news?

I’m an information verification teacher. I did my training six years ago and I have been using verification tools since. 

Without these methods you can not be a journalist today.