Stu­dents take on scourge of fake news in new study

Their re­search highlights the need to teach young peo­ple to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween facts and ma­li­cious fic­tion

The National - News - - NEWS - RAMOLA TAL­WAR BADAM

Peo­ple of­ten do not dis­tin­guish be­tween news and per­sonal opin­ion on so­cial me­dia

Pupils must be taught to iden­tify fake news so that in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion is not spread on so­cial me­dia, re­search by three stu­dents has shown.

Their work on the topic won them an award from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice Pres­i­dent and Ruler of Dubai.

Rama Hodefa, Dina Fayad and Nesma Al­haj, from the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, won a na­tion­wide com­pe­ti­tion or­gan­ised by the Emi­rati Me­dia Fo­rum. They were pre­sented with their medals by Sheikh Mohammed at an event last week.

Reach­ing out to young peo­ple was key, Ms Hodefa said. “We put for­ward prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions like work­shops for pupils to train them so they un­der­stand which are the real news agen­cies and news sources that can be trusted,” she said.

“The young can be trained to think in a crit­i­cal way so they an­a­lyse news and are not mis­led eas­ily by ev­ery­thing they read or see.

“They can learn to judge real and fake news, and un­der­stand the agen­das of dif­fer­ent par­ties who spread fake news to cre­ate di­vi­sions among peo­ple.”

Their study, Fake News, also touched on the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect fake news has on fam­i­lies. It used the ex­am­ple of an in­ci­dent last year, in which what was claimed to be a list of sol­diers who had died in Ye­men was cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia. The list ac­tu­ally con­tained the names of col­lege stu­dents who were alive and well.

“We wanted to work on an ac­tual case that hap­pened last year, be­cause the peo­ple listed were not sol­diers fight­ing in Ye­men but col­lege stu­dents who were alive,” Ms Hodefa said.

“This was aimed at cre­at­ing trouble, be­cause peo­ple got up­set and frus­trated that young peo­ple were dy­ing. Such propa- ganda can af­fect fam­i­lies and the coun­try.”

The re­quire­ments for the con­test were that the pa­per had to be pre­sented in Ara­bic and ap­pli­cants had to re­search the sub­ject of fake news for about five weeks.

Sourc­ing the in­for­ma­tion in Ara­bic and speak­ing to a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial for in­for­ma­tion was also part of the chal­lenge.

“This taught me a lot about re­search, be­cause we usu­ally do this in English, and it was a chal­lenge to do re­search in Ara­bic and to in­ter­view peo­ple in gov­ern­ment in­stead of just de­pend­ing on the in­ter­net,” Ms Fayad said.

“At univer­sity we are taught about meet­ing peo­ple and find­ing the right re­sources.

“But other peo­ple also need to know how to han­dle all the in­for­ma­tion, so they don’t just re­ceive it, ac­cept it and spread it on Face­book with­out know­ing if it is true.”

The three schol­ar­ship stu­dents said the study helped them to un­der­stand peo­ple’s im­me­di­ate in­stinct to com­ment on is­sues they had lit­tle grasp of.

“So­cial me­dia makes peo­ple feel they must have an opin­ion on ev­ery­thing,” Ms Al­haj said.

“Fake news has ex­isted for a long time, but so­cial me­dia and the quick spread of in­for­ma­tion has made the prob­lem more com­pli­cated.

“Every­one has an opin­ion now and every­one has ac­cess to so­cial me­dia, which was not the case be­fore. It’s not just teens and stu­dents, but me­dia plat­forms that have helped to spread fake news.

“So this is not some­thing that will go away, but we can work to min­imise the prob­lem by spread­ing aware­ness in schools, so stu­dents don’t ac­cept in­for­ma­tion with­out ques­tion­ing it.”

Dr Mousa Barhoum, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­for­ma­tion stud­ies, said the spread of fake news posed a threat to com­mu­ni­ties and se­cu­rity.

“Peo­ple also do not dis­tin­guish be­tween news and per­sonal opin­ion,” Dr Barhoum said. “This is the task of the me­dia, state in­sti­tu­tions and con­trol sys­tems, es­pe­cially on so­cial me­dia, which stud­ies have proved to be the big­gest source of fake news, be­cause those who deal with these sites do not have enough ex­pe­ri­ence, and thus broad­cast what they hear and pub­lish as facts.

“It is false news, aimed at mis­lead­ing.”

An­tonie Robertson / The Na­tional

Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Dubai stu­dents Rama Hodefa, Dina Fayad and Nesma Al­haj were pre­sented with an award by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid for their pa­per on fake news

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