NEW YORK (AP) – Journalists are sounding the alarm about the spread of misinformation in society and how it affects their work on a daily basis, along with skepticism about whether traditional methods to combat it really work.
Defenders of free speech PEN America found in a poll of journalists released on Thursday that 90% said their jobs were affected by fake content created with the intent to defraud.
Misinformation takes many forms: False claims of former President Donald Trump that he won the 2020 presidential electionuntested COVID-19 treatments the online and wild spread of QAnon theories about pedophilia. It could be as simple as a local politician lying about an opponent’s record or this week’s debate over whether the video showed bird droppings landed on President Joe Biden’s jacket during a speech.
When more than 1,000 journalists returned to the poll, PEN America was struck by how the images in the written responses “continued to come out with people flooded with misinformation,” said Dru Menaker, the organisation’s chief operating officer.
“Obviously, we’ve touched a nerve,” she said.
Four in five respondents labeled it a serious problem and most say they deal with it regularly, either through sources that transmit false information or the need to debut something that spreads online.
False information can be spread around the world, or in regulated photos and videos that need to be verified, Menaker said. It is widespread to a large extent because its suppliers see it as effective.
Luke O’Brien, a journalist and contributor to the Harvard’s Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy, is now an expert on a rhythm that hardly existed a decade ago. He said he was surprised by the speed with which the misinformation spread in the media.
“It just gets worse and worse,” he said.
While most journalists work to combat it, 11% of respondents admitted that they had inadvertently transmitted false information and 17% said they avoided making a story because they feared they would be subject to a reaction to “fake news”. “that would seek to discredit reporting.
Asked by PEN America about the most scandalous misinformation sources they have encountered, 76% of reporters quoted right-wing conspiracy theorists (35% said left-wing conspiracy theorists). 70 percent said government officials or politicians, 65 percent said advocacy groups, and 54 percent cited organizations created specifically to create misinformation.
Public hostility to journalists and a business climate that has reduced ranks on the ground, especially outside major cities and among those covering minority communities, has reinforced the issue.
A Los Angeles Times reporter who returned the poll told of reporting on a militant-backed group that used disinformation to gain power in the local government. The group leader went to a podcast to call the reporter and a Nazi colleague they had to “take care of” and she now holds a bulletproof vest in her closet.
O’Brien said he first became aware of the bad actors operating online in the mid-2010s when he covered harassment of women in the video game industry.
Some news organizations have stepped up their efforts to eradicate misinformation in recent years. The Associated Press, for example, has a 12-person verification unit that investigates allegations circulating on the Internet, along with a special fact-checking operation and reporters covering disinformation as a news rhythm.
AP has a weekly column“Not Real News”, which breaks down the most popular, but completely untrue stories that circulate on the Internet.
However, many do not have the capacity. “We need more journalists,” said one respondent. “Those who are left are overwhelmed and do not have time to take over the whole world of misinformation.”
Many journalists feel that not enough has been done to train people on how to deal with these issues. However, there is also little unanimity on how to do this.
While some believe it is important to report false claims, others believe it only gives them a greater turnover. O’Brien said there are ways to report them without reinforcement, not including links, for example.
It is important to report what is happening to historical records, he said. Journalists should also devote resources to reporting on who is behind the misinformation, both in terms of funding and execution.
Fact-checkers often face resentment and should be guarded from readers who think they are talking to them, Menaker said. Some of the respondents agree that journalists should do a better job by showing readers or viewers that they are not distant, that they are part of the community.
It’s scary, there can be no way to fight this effectively. And some people will simply not accept it if presented with facts contrary to what they believe.
“Some people are disappointed that people just have not complained about the facts, that there is a significant portion of the audience that may be inaccessible,” she said.