I had the opportunity to attend the Media Literacy For Democracy (MLFD) workshop in Madrid. The location of the workshop was in Universidad Rey Juan Carlos which was close to the demonstrations happening against the current acting government. The workshop covered the areas of mis and disinformation in social media, traditional media and cryptocurrencies, and how the European Union (EU) has tried to prevent the spread of it.
The first speaker was Jorge Tuñón, who discussed the ‘Misinformation Pandemic’ happening in Europe and how the EU is trying to solve it. In 2016 it seemed to be a turning point for the EU’s role on countering misinformation with the US elections and the Brexit vote. One interesting statistic was how high disinformation was during the US elections in 2016. According to Politico, over 70% of Trump affirmations during his campaign were false, compared to 26% of Hilary’s claims. Alongside this was the Brexit vote. Research found that Russian Influence on social media led to over 45000 Brexit messages being posted in the last 48 hours of the campaign. As the 2019 EU elections looked like it could create fighting from within the bloc, the EU took action by creating the European Digital Media Observatory and approving many regulations and acts against disinformation. However, Jorge discussed how companies can get 7 times more traffic from disinformation rather than proper information, and how companies like X (formerly Twitter) can pull themselves out of these agreements if they wish.
The next speaker was Miguel Martín who discussed how to be informed in a political world. He discussed about how different strategies are used by people to show how someone’s word is the truth over someone else. Another point he discusses is how communities can be formed around disinformation and this can be seen throughout the past few years in Europe and beyond with Covid-19 and Brexit.
Alfonso Bauluz was the next person to speak. He discussed how information is used and what tools countries have to silence information. He discussed the ‘Dominion of the information space’ where tools like propaganda and hoaxes can influence the people of a nation or society. This space is often controlled in authoritarian regimes to restrict what information is spread to the populace. It is also a strategic target in war to prevent propaganda to form and persuade the population to arms. The sentence that stood out to me was “The first victim of war is humanity”.
The final speaker was Victor Ventura who discussed cryptocurrencies and the mis and disinformation that forms from scams, social media and traditional media. He spoke about 3 groups that use cryptocurrencies: libertarians, those who want to ‘get rich quick’ and those who have little knowledge in crypto. The libertarians believe that cryptocurrencies are the future of financial transactions. Those who want to ‘Get rich quick’ use cryptocurrencies to make as much money as fast as possible. The final group are people who know little about cryptocurrencies but invest because they saw it online or were recommended to. All 3 of these groups can fall for scams and misinformation on the internet. Victor gave some great examples about how the scams work and how X (formerly Twitter) has made scamming and fake accounts more common and more likely to spread misinformation about crypto trends. Another issue is traditional media as journalists will report fake investment opportunities around cryptocurrencies. Victor gave a few examples of media outlets reporting about new cryptocurrencies being used by large companies only for it to be fake news and resulting in people being scammed or losing money. This was a really interesting take on financial literacy as it was surprising to see how much money is lost through crypto scams, with $3.8 Billion dollars being stolen from consumers in 2022 in the US alone.
The speakers were excellent at the workshop and made me think about how I approach media on social or traditional sites. It is clear that media literacy is important to combat misinformation and disinformation and that the EU has a role to play in this area. In regards to Ireland, research done by Dr Sara Singleton of TASC recommends that journalists and social media companies move away from a profit-based system of information to a quality-based system of information. Another recommendation is to include the reduction of the spread of fake news in the UN sustainable development goals.
I would like to thank TASC for giving me the opportunity to go to Madrid to attend this workshop and Fundación Alternativas and Universidad Rey Juan Carlos for organising it. If you want to read more about the project and TASC’s work with the project you can see the Financial Literacy website here.
My name is Nathan Hart. I am currently in my 3rd year undergraduate studying Politics and Economics in UCD. I have an interest in Public and social policy. I undertook a student internship in TASC between September and November 2023 working in the Social Inclusion branch.