North Denmark gears up to fight fake news

, by Juuso Järviniemi, Věra Dvořáková

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

North Denmark gears up to fight fake news
Full house at the JEF-North Denmark fake news event in Aalborg.

How do fake news influence politics in all around the globe? What is the danger of fake news for the European Union? How is the future going to look like? And most importantly - how can we fight back? These questions and many more were asked at an event called The Danger of Fake News: How to Fight Back, organised by European Youth North Denmark (JEF North Denmark) in Aalborg.

At the beginning of the event, there was a presentation about DisinfoLab, an NGO working on analysis and prevention of spreading disinformation. Then, the audience tried to guess which headlines are fake or true in a short Kahoot! quiz and finally, two discussions - an informal moderated discussion among the audience, followed by a panel discussion with three experienced speakers:

  • Juuso Järviniemi - Editor-in-Chief of The New Federalist and President of Young European Movement UK (JEF-UK)
  • Ben Dorfman - associate professor of intellectual and cultural history, and head of the Language and International Studies programs at Aalborg University
  • Lasse Frimand Jensen - project manager at the International House North Denmark and also a member of the City Council in Aalborg

Fake news: Catalysts and remedies

In the discussion, Juuso pointed out that the European Union is a political system that continually fights for its existence, which makes fake news particularly damaging to it. In an established nation-state, fake news may dethrone the government of the day, but when false criticism is levelled against the European Commission, it is the institution rather than just Jean-Claude Juncker’s cabinet that is being criticised.

At the same time, the strongest defence mechanism against fake news isn’t at the EU’s disposal. Namely, the EU has no impartial, widely trusted public broadcaster. All that the EU as a system can rely on is national-level media giving it accurate and sufficiently extensive coverage. After all, fake news tap into existing public perceptions – if a made-up story doesn’t correspond with the reader’s worldview, it is particularly unlikely to make an impact. About the EU, citizens have no accurate image, but instead fake news may fill a tabula rasa in viewers’ heads.

Lasse Frimand Jensen spoke about the importance of admitting one’s mistakes. Fake news thrive in an environment where politicians are not trusted, and endless excuse-finding is one factor contributing to the erosion of trust in the political class. Would more relatable and ‘human’ politicians be more immune to fake news?

Ben Dorfman discussed the turbulent times that we are living in. Perhaps, despite technological change and the unprecedented rapidity of communication, fake news would not resonate if it weren’t for the social malaise across societies from Poland to the Philippines. Nordic countries haven’t struggled with fake news as much as some other places, and perhaps social equality and the relative lack of deprivation are to be thanked.

Time to act

The main aim of the Aalborg event, however, was to set up a permanent unit of volunteers called Anti-Troll Unit which will identify fake news and other disinformation in their respective countries or languages, write reports and then send them to the EU East Stratcom Task Force who will publish it in their weekly Disinformation Review. In this way, European Youth North Denmark, the majority of whose members come from Eastern Europe, want to contribute their share to the fight against disinformation in Europe.

However, volunteers from all over Europe are more than welcome to sign up. Every member will get an Anti-Troll Unit patch!

Last but not least, we had a small surprise: three members of The New Federalist editorial board met at the same place, so we had a tiny TNF get-together.

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