Dr. Alina Bargaoanu leading a session during the ninth consecutive annual workshop in Bucharest, Romania.

Ninth Consecutive Annual Workshop In Bucharest Organized By The Cox International Center

Dr. Alina Bargaoanu, dean of the College of Communication and Public Relations of the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania, said that fake news is a proxy, albeit popular term for the larger phenomenon of disinformation 2.0 that refers to machine-driven, technology-powered disinformation.

“It is qualitatively different from traditional, people-driven disinformation carried out through traditional media,” Dr. Bargaoanu told the forty participants in the two-day program in early October. “What we are witnessing right now is a new arms race, a proliferation of technology-powered disinformation, a phenomenon for which intellectual, regulatory and research tools have only recently started to emerge.”

The Fake News and Information Disorders in the Digital Age workshop was the ninth consecutive annual event organized in Bucharest by the College of Communication and Public Relations at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration and by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia. The Cox International Center is the international outreach unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Dr. Charles Davis, dean of the Grady College, said that in today’s media environment, trust is the single most important element in fighting disinformation.

“The purveyors of falsehood are attacking the very tenets of sound journalism, making it more important than ever for us to include the public in what we do – and don’t do – to demonstrate sound journalistic practice in our newsrooms and to foster engagement with our readers and viewers,” Dr. Davis told the participating faculty, students and journalists in the room.

“Misinformation comes in all formats and topics and is disseminated on almost every platform the world over," said Daniel Funke, fact-checking reporter for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a graduate of the Grady College. "It can be fake news stories on Facebook about diseases in the United States, it can be viral Whats App rumors about child kidnappings in India or it can be fakeTwitter photos of a political protest in Spain - but misinformation is a problem everywhere. Both journalists and news consumers can combat any phenomenon by arming themselves with certain tools and critical thinking skills that enable them to tell true from false, namely: gut checking, reverse image searches, advanced (or even simple!) googling, consulting with fact-checking sites and using social media and domain registration tools. In sum, misinformation is a global problem - and it will take global solutions to effectively address it.”

Dr. Tudor Vlad, director of the Cox International Center, said that the concept of fake news has been used in recent years by leaders of emerging democracies to avoid answering specific questions asked by journalists. “Rather than addressing legitimate questions related to lack of transparency in the governance, corruption or nepotism, these leaders have started blaming the media and accusing them of producing fake news. This is very dangerous and it has the potential to create confusion among citizens and to lower their trust in the free press.”

In response to what Dr. Vlad said, David Hazinski, emeritus professor of journalism and president of Intelligent Media Consultants, argued that media have their share of responsibility for the current situation.

“To be honest, I don’t think the people I met are yet willing to look at themselves as part of the problem,” Hazinski said. “Media often represents the interests of government or oligarchs and is thus easy to attack, or adheres to traditional communications methods like emailed policy statements and minister interviews instead of video storytelling and social media. Fake news may never go away, but we have to create yardsticks that allow audiences to gauge the validity of information, which means taking a look at how we operate as well as the trolls.” 

Dr. Remus Pricopie, rector of the Romanian university, emphasized in the opening session that more than 25 workshops, conferences and faculty exchanges have been organized in ten years of partnership between the University of Georgia and the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, and 15 books and studies have been published as a result of the joint research.