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Saturday, April 2, 2022

URI speaker gives times on how to spot fake news

ProPublica’s Craig Silverman discusses effect of fake news on Ukraine, online

By Kate LeBlanc

Award-winning journalist and fake-news expert Craig Silverman discussed the role of misinformation and fake news in the Ukraine/Russia crisis as the keynote speaker at the Harrington School of Communication and Media’s event on “How to be Media Literate Citizens.” 

Silverman, who joined ProPublica last year, won a George Polk Award in 2020 for a series of stories he produced while at Buzzfeed News about fake news and scams on Facebook. He was also awarded the 2018 Carey McWilliams Award from the American Political Science Association, which honors “a major journalistic contribution to our understanding of politics.”

The online talk, entitled “The Global Disinformation Trade: From the Pandemic to the War in Ukraine,” examined global media and how it has been affected by politics and a drive for profit. It was the last event in the half-day conference around the heightened presence of misinformation and conspiracy theories. 

“A lot has changed in our media environment, just really in the last 10 or 12 years,” said Silverman. “And I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re all sort of struggling so much. A lot of us are struggling to kind of grasp what has changed, how to really sort fact from fiction in the environment, and how to be a conscious, literate consumer and participant in the media environment.”

Silverman told a story about how, a few years ago, he came across a series of websites that wanted to pay Facebook users for access to their accounts in order to run advertisements through them. The companies ran these ads to spread false information about celebrities and politicians. The more people clicked on the ad, the more money the companies would make. This was the first article Silverman wrote in his series of stories on Facebook disinformation. 

He discussed how these falsified ads became utilized in the 2019 Ukrainian elections a short time later; Russian allies started running fake articles and advertisements to influence Ukrainian election results. 

In the past few weeks as the Russo-Ukrainian War has heightened, Silverman said that there has been more urgency and less fact-checking in spreading information online. For example, Silverman said people in Ukraine have been more inclined to share footage of Russian attacks online in an effort to warn other people, but don’t question the validity of the video. 

“There are a lot of well-meaning people that pass along things that ended up not being true,” Silverman said. “And, in fact, that is far more common than people knowingly spreading false and misleading information.” 

Silverman provided the audience with three tips to avoid unintentionally spreading misinformation. 

  1. Accept responsibility and embrace your power. Silverman said that we must understand that on social media, we have a responsibility to ensure we are sharing truthful, accurate information. If we don’t accept this responsibility, that’s how misinformation is spread. 
  2. Ask questions of what you are seeing online. Frequently, we accept information online that aligns with our pre-existing beliefs. Silverman encouraged the audience to question everything – both what you believe and don’t believe – to overcome potential emotional responses to information. 
  3. Be patient. Silverman advised the audience to be more understanding of rapidly evolving situations such as the pandemic or the Russo-Ukrainian War. Because these events are constantly changing, information can quickly change as well, and it is important to be mindful of that. 

“If you’re patient. If you ask questions. If you understand your power, your responsibility, then you can really help navigate a very chaotic and confusing information environment, and be a much more literary consumer and citizen,” said Silverman.