Getting closer to society, joining forces in collaborative journalism, and using technology efficiently are actions capable of containing the advance of disinformation. These were some of the conclusions of the panel “How journalism has reacted to waves of disinformation,” from the webinar “Journalism in Times of Polarization and Disinformation in Latin America,” organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas at Austin.
The discussion was attended by Tania Montalvo, deputy editorial director of the Mexican media group Editorial Animal; Tai Nalon, executive director and co-founder of Brazilian fact-checking agency Aos Fatos; and Laura Zommer, executive and journalistic director of the Argentine fact-checking agency Chequeado. They also highlighted the difficulties of fighting disinformation, including obstacles imposed by federal governments. Professor Summer Harlow of the University of Houston moderated the panel.
"What we experience in Brazil today, in 2021, is an extrapolation of what started in the 2018 presidential elections,” Nalon said. “Since then, there has been an institutionalization of disinformation as public policy of the State, from the engagement of influencers for false information to behind-the-scenes mobilizations that create hate campaigns on social media. And 2020, with the pandemic, was the turning point towards the radicalization of disinformation by the federal government.”
The executive director of Aos Fatos was pessimistic about fighting disinformation in the 2022 presidential elections, which will again be polarized. The solution, according to Nalon, involves greater collaboration between journalists.
"If the fight is not coordinated, bringing together journalists, outlets and platforms, within well-established and well-oiled rules, it is a process that has problems."
In addition to the greater bond between press professionals, journalists have an obligation to establish a dialogue and build a bridge with readers and citizens, Montalvo said. For the Mexican journalist, it is necessary to focus on clarifying content on important issues for civil society, which is a victim of polarization in various segments.
“People are removed from the work of the press, and eventually they decide to ride waves of disinformation without consulting verified sources. Many times, the press is linked to the powerful and not to the citizenry. Act in alliance and collaboration with civil society. That allows us to fight together against this wave of polarization and disinformation," Montalvo said.
Zommer added that it is essential to incorporate technology into the journalistic process so that it can happen faster and without losing quality. The executive director of Chequeado cites the example of the “Chequeabot,” an artificial intelligence mechanism that helps to listen to speeches by authorities, follow publications to find out what is trending, and identify what is checkable, what is viral, and the lies that can cause damage.
“We are not going to end disinformation, which is here to stay. The best we can do is learn new tools to deal with this phenomenon that is only going to become more sophisticated, and which undoubtedly imposes new challenges on us," Zommer explained. "Those who misinform use technology in addition to emotions and narratives. We have to do the same with the checkers.”
The webinar “Journalism in Times of Polarization and Disinformation in Latin America” also featured the tables “Polarization: the challenges of journalists who become targets in polarized societies” and “Democracy and press freedom: The role of the press in defending democracy and freedom of expression.” The recordings are available in Spanish and Portuguese.