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
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.”
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