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Critical thinkers

RENATA MATKEVICIENE

What is your role in the organization you are leading? I’m teacher and researcher. I see the mission of Vilnius University, and the mission of myself, in not only providing knowledge, skills for students, but to widening their understanding of world stressing the importance of critical thinking. How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organisation in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? We as university have to be among those who create the basis for competencies for those who work in the field of media, or those who could be opinion leaders or those who are the experts/professionals we ask for help when we need – information and communication professionals. What are the main resources developed by your organisation you’d be willing to share? I do research in media sociology and political communication. These areas are tightly related to media literacy, analysis of media activities, media management, media’s role in political, public discourses. Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? Because of AI and other technological developments there’s a need to revise fact-checking, debunking activities. Changing narratives and methods used by those who expose public discourse by malign narrative. Age groups and their interaction with malign narratives, and their attitudes toward disinformation. Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? Educational programs (pre-school and school education programs) where media literacy, critical thinking competencies would be integrated into subjects, but not as an independent subject. Integration of youth into active civic activities, as they are active in social media platforms, and have no historical memory of war or armed conflict situations that make them more vulnerable to malign narratives. Communication policies on promoting EU, country narrative through various communication means (mainstream media, creative industries, etc.). What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? This year is special – pandemic situation has had impact on disinformation activities from several foreign actors. In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? Traditionally these dates could be 9 May, the first weekend of May. What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. The main narratives have not changed: failing state, poor governance. Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? Last cases are related with interpretation of situation around Navalny. In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? Universities, youth NGOs and elves.   Interview from February, 2021. RENATA MATKEVICIENE
Associate professor Vilnius University, Lithuania
Open, critical, responsible JUDITA AKROMIENE
Critical thinkers

NENAD PEJIC

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organisation in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? I was vice-president and chief editor of Radio Slobodna Europa, a station which broadcasts in 26 languages. When you broadcast in multiple languages, you cannot  have the same task for each country. You have to adapt your program to the country in which you broadcast. But the main task is always to provide basic information, truthful information, and give your listeners, readers or viewers the possibility to come to their own conclusions based on the information you gave them. What are the main resources developed by your organisation you’d be willing to share? Everything Radio Slobodna Europa does, they are more than happy to share with others. Be it its website https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/, databases, or any other type of knowledge. Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? The media are almost 100% owned by individuals or the state. Sparse independent media have very little influence. I think the biggest challenge is the ignorance of mainstream media to all the scandals the independent media discovers. It will be hard to make a difference. Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? I think fake news is an industry. This is an industry which has employees, working hours, norms and pays. The only way to battle against the industry of lies is to create the industry of truth. I think the reaction to fake news is sometimes good, sometimes not, but in principle the reaction to fake news is wrong. You can have a brilliant reaction after one hour, for example. But in that one hour, fake news already spread enough to cause damage. So, I think reaction is just one of the necessities in the battle against fake news. Second, an example from Finland, where they decided to start countering  disinformation, believe it or not, from kindergarten. They teach children to think critically, to fact check everything, etc. So, it is not a battle to be won by reacting only. What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? First of all, the American elections. The second one is, of course the Coronavirus situation, the crisis and the nonsense which is happening. There is a Twitter account in England, with 30.000 followers, which promotes claims the pandemic started because of some people using the 5G technology. These are the two big subjects, and then each country has its own ones.  But the only constant is the propaganda against the EU and the NATO pact coming from the East. In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? It will get worse in America not only during the presidential elections, but also after the presidential elections. Here in the Balkan region, fake news will probably appear in the Croatia-Serbia relation. On the one hand, you have a peace campaign, on the other – people who do not agree with that. In 2021, there will probably be a lot of talk about the EU elections. What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. Except for the coronavirus, I did an analysis, but not this year, about how the Russian radio station Sputnik purposely sends out fake information regarding NATO and the EU. Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. There are some web pages in the region and much more in the world which deal exclusively with that. FAKTOGRAF in Croatia, ISTINOMER in Belgrade, ISTINOMER in Sarajevo, FAKENEWS.ORG from Ukraine tackling fake news coming from Russia. NEW YORK TIMES and WASHINGTON POST, you have a lot of websites which deal with this problem. You’ve got FORENSIC.COM if you want to check photographs. Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? I will give you a known case. A long time ago, the Serbian television announced the president Milosevic was arrested. Official television, official channel, official news program. After that, reporters found out he was not arrested, he was at home. And fifty of his followers came to support him. However, when the authorities saw such a small number of adherers, they decided to arrest him the following day. So, it was a purposely placed fake news. The state and state television wanted to check how much support Milosevic would get if he really got arrested. When they saw only few supporters, they did arrest him. Are there any other points you wish to raise during this interview? Be patient and go deep. NENAD PEJIC
Former vice-president of Radio Slobodna Europa (Free Europe)
Persistent, creative, patient JUDITA AKROMIENE
Critical thinkers

LEILA BICAKCIC

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organisation in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? The Centre for Investigative Reporting that I run is a media agency aiming to provide fair and unbiased information to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the whole region, because some of our topics are also regional. By doing that we try to provide as factual information as possible, based on original, undistorted sources and documents, as well as on facts distilled from opinions or diversions. In this way we hope to raise the level of understanding of the situation in the country or the region, but also to educate our readers which information is true, how to find it, whom to trust and why to trust a particular source. As a result, we counter disinformation – basically just by teaching the audience that information is available through trusted sources, they fight disinformation by doing research. Fact checking is a new global trend in the media sphere, and basically every serious news organisation does it internally within their own resources. In our case, it is the last stage of verification before the story is published: an independent person who did not participate in the journalistic investigation checks if all the statements reported in the story that had earlier gone through the editorial process and is ready to be published are based on the documents and are not misinterpreted, which is basically the main thing. So fact-checking in the context of media reporting is an inclusive part in the process of developing stories, videos or any other media product. It is integral element of the media reporting process. What are the main resources developed by your organisation you’d be willing to share? Investigative stories are available on our page https://www.cin.ba/en/. Since we function basically as a media agency, media organisations in our country or in the region take over the stories we publish. Eventually the stories are deposited on our web page, where they are permanently archived, available both in local language and English. All stories are accompanied by multimedia content, be it videos, animations, infographics, photos and other material depending on the story. We try to come up with as many additional documents as possible to make the wider audience understand the story better. We also try to adapt the content to different social media platforms, which require a different approach. Although, being investigative reporters, we do not have our own training programs, but we do provide input for the trainings organised by other organisations. Our educational materials are published on our web. So basically it is the collection of all the materials we have produced throughout the 16th years of existence. We also summarise our yearly activities in annual reports. In addition, since the amount of documents and official information that we collect for every research or investigation is massive, we try to provide additional use for that by disclosing our databases. In this way – by sharing a digital access to the documents that are in our hands – we assist officials, fellow journalists, researchers, and everybody else to continue the research. That is a big thing in Bosnia these days, because data journalism is relatively new in the Balkans, unlike in the rest of Europe or the world. We try to inspire others to try to find a different angle, a different story, an additional story in the documents we have made the use of https://cri.lt/#publications Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? I think the biggest challenge overall is that we have to fight very hard to return to the basis of journalism. Journalists will have to go back to respecting professional standards which have not changed. Journalists these days are fighting with social networks or citizen journalism – which is a new concept that is hopefully going to trail away because it is not journalism. At the same time, journalists are often criticised today for not being professional, being biased, being politically affiliated with different political options. This is definitely diminishing their position. So the challenge is to go back to the basics, to resume professional standards and to adapt to the new times, as the need for unbiased and truthful information has not ceased to exist. Challenges are also financial, professional, and educational, you name it, but that is not different from any other profession, we just have to continuously learn and adapt to the challenges of society. Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? Journalists need to start cooperating with their fellow colleagues from the rest of the world. There are great solutions out there, and it has never been easier to access them via Internet in the global world. So first of all: communication and cooperation among journalists, exchanging information, knowledge, solutions, ideas how to come up with a story, what steps to undertake to investigate this or that. On the other hand, we as citizens will have to realise that not all the sources are truthful, as well as to engage more in selecting the sources of our information feed. In this way we will be able to fight disinformation, which, together with hate speech, is a threat to a society. What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? Covid19, Covid19, Covid19. I think the start of the pandemic is not the date that we can assign to the start of disinformation campaigns – it only clearly highlighted all the evil sides of manipulative activities, how they can confuse people and strike fear. In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? Eventually we will get to a point where we have a vaccine available for the general population, which I think is going to activate the anti-vaccine movement, so that will definitely be the date in the time to come. The anti-vaccine community is going to grow again and they will be very loud and visible. Another milestone in the future will be when we are able to officially declare the pandemic is over – and we will have to learn again how to live normally, as before the pandemic. Still another date is in my opinion related to the moment we accept that human rights are to be respected with no questions asked. When will this date come, and will we be able to mark the day or the period in time when everybody agrees that human rights are equal for everybody – that is another question. What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. Again, Covid 19, of course – numerous disinformation narratives are about Covid or around Covid. But I think we are also seeing the rise of populist movements around the world, as well as the rise of nationalistic, if not fascistic movements in Europe in particular, but also in the rest of the world. Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. There is a rise of fact-checking portals that are not journalistic, but they function as typical fact-checking organisation. They take a story that is available and check it against facts and sources of these facts. That is a good way for educating the public who starts noticing and regularly visiting those sites, because they pop up on a regular basis. Here in Croatia we have Faktograf, but there are similar organisations across the Western Balkans and wider. Is a good way to learn what to look for in an information, and to understand that not everything that we read, be it media or social network, is true or unbiased. So just by learning what to look for in a story is a first step in fighting disinformation globally. Expecting that only one group, one part of the society is responsible for making the world better, we would never be able to win this battle. Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? My personal favourite is the anti-vaccine movement. I truly believe people have a freedom of choice, but if they choose not to vaccinate themselves or their kids, then they should not be able to enjoy all the other aspects of the modern society. In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? It is hard to pinpoint one actor. I think that public figures in general should be responsible for alerting the public – no matter what they do, no matter what their profession is. Once someone becomes recognisable, his or her role is to contribute to people’s understanding of everything including, media literacy. LEILA BICAKCIC
Executive Director of the Centre for Investigative Reporting
Fair, professional, relaying on facts JUDITA AKROMIENE
Critical thinkers

TOMAS KAZULENAS

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organisation in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? Civic Resilience Initiative focuses its activities on increasing the resilience of Lithuanian and other societies of the region through the means of engaging education. The organisation aims to increase the resilience in the spheres of security, media-literacy, disinformation, civil and grass-root activities, empowering the civil societies to actively engage in educational activities themselves. CRI aims to encourage people to think critically and to become more media literate. Our motto is: identify, facilitate, catalyse, which defines the educational approach CRI tries to apply in the region. What are the main resources developed by your organisation you’d be willing to share? We have a recent educational video to share, as well as several educational booklets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkb40Xg5E7I&feature=emb_title; https://cri.lt/#publications Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? One of the biggest challenges we face today is countering online disinformation, being able to spot it and not spread it. But this does not mean disinformation is always “false” or untrue. Spreading half-truths, mixing facts with fiction or reusing content out of context are common practices that aim to confuse the readers. Luckily, media and information literacy gives you the tools you need to find the answers. Unfortunately, Lithuania is subject to intense disinformation activities. Five years ago, the flow of disinformation on the news portals increased dramatically. That was the reason to start to fight back.   Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? While fighting disinformation, Civic Resilience Initiative puts the main focus onto education. One of the best means of education that we have developed are small expert meetings with society in the regions. CRI sends a variety of experts, political scientists and activists to talk about the challenges connected with disinformation with locals in smaller Lithuanian cities. This method has proven to be very efficient and has received a lot of positive feedback. Additionally, CRI has released educational publications with short, easily understandable articles with expert opinions in both printed and online versions.  What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination; NATO military exercises in Europe and the Baltic states; October 11 and 25, 2020 – Lithuanian parliamentary elections. In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? Upcoming major NATO exercises in Europe and the Baltic states; COVID-19 mass vaccination; possible decline of the NORD Stream II project. What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. Without any doubt, this year’s main narratives were about coronavirus. The main groups of narratives we have seen included conspiracy theories about the alleged creation of the virus, how it is artificially spread in Lithuanian society, how dangerous the vaccines are and how Covid-19 is a bigger plan of societal control together with the 5G tower installation. These narratives are highly dangerous and problematic as they spread deep into the society and inspire people to actively fight against what they perceive as a man-made virus. Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. DFRLab relies heavily on local disinformation experts and open source tools that are available online for everyone. Some of these tools are: reverse image search tools, RevEye, InVid Video verification, FotoForensics, Botometer and others.  https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/reveye-reverse-image-sear/keaaclcjhehbbapnphnmpiklalfhelgf?hl=en https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/fake-news-debunker-by-inv/mhccpoafgdgbhnjfhkcmgknndkeenfhe?hl=en http://fotoforensics.com/ https://botometer.osome.iu.edu/ Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? CRI experts agree that the latest misinformation and disinformation activities concerning the COVID vaccines is the most dangerous and worth talking about. CRI has noted disinformation about alleged Military Police being used for forced vaccination, about doctors refusing to be vaccinated themselves, but also about severe side effects of the vaccine for those who were jabbed. These cases of fake news have been debunked, yet are still prevalent in some private Facebook groups. In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? The two main actors actively fighting against disinformation in Lithuania are Lithuanian Elves and Debunk.eu. These two organizations often work in tandem, and are experts in not only finding disinformation, but also actively countering it online. Are there any other points you wish to raise during this interview? Civic Resilience Initiative wishes you to stay resilient in 2021! TOMAS KAZULENAS
Director and co-founder of Civic Resilience Initiative
Proactive, attentive, creative JUDITA AKROMIENE
Critical thinkers

AUSRINE DIRZINSKAITE

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organisation in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? Our organisation focuses on political watchdogging, fact-checking of politicians, tracking the implementation of their promises, educational activities, seminars and trainings for youth and teachers. What are the main resources developed by your organisation you’d be willing to share? Methodology for watchdogging of politicians’ promises, educational materials (interactive methods for youth created by youth themselves), educational platform for critical thinking, media literacy and watchdogging (to be created in 2021, in LT, LV, EE, RU and English). Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? Tools and resources for civil society to build their resilience and effectively communicate their narratives, echo chambers dissociating more vulnerable groups, prevailing influential opinion makers – politicians and media – who disseminate disinformation narratives.   Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? Trainings for leaders of local communities acting as multipliers, to improve their spotting of disinformation narratives and communicating their own positive narratives, community building of various actors (local leaders, journalists, experts, policy makers) to cooperate in countering disinformation, awareness of teachers (engaged both in formal and informal education) and tools to build the resilience of young people. What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? Introduction of quarantine due to COVID-19 in Lithuania, Belarus elections and mass protests, EU summits to negotiate the Multiannual Financial Framework (July and December EUCOs). In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? Start of mass vaccination, voting on the same-sex partnership in Lithuanian parliament (cleavage in the country), any other new health/climate crisis. What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. The COVID-19 is a fake introduced to control people by the elites/there are natural cures so no need for vaccination/COVID-19 statistics are fake. The EU is failing to manage the crisis, there are major differences between countries, lack of democracy – the dictatorship of Brussels. Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. Debunk.eu, EUvsdisinfo (East StratCom), patikrinta 15min (https://www.15min.lt/patikrinta-15min). Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? I personally reached out to people in my community who question the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussions with them demonstrated the prevailing thinking pattern – everything that mass media say is a lie benefiting the elites. Hence, I asked them for explanation how they evaluate sources of information, and on what basis they believe that their alternative sources are credible. This resulted in some hope, however showcased the harm of echo chambers and the alienation of our communities. I think that engagement and refraining from stigmatisation is the key here. In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? I am participating in a TechSoup Europe project Media Literacy Accelerator, which I think can prove helpful to local communities. DebunkEU, led by LT team, pioneer in fact checking and produce deep and comprehensive analyses on local disinformation narratives and their spread. AUSRINE DIRZINSKAITE
Co-coordinator, Learn before You Vote
Devoted, cooperative, enjoyable JUDITA AKROMIENE
Quotes

Ryszard Kapuściński, Polish publicist and reporter

Since it was discovered that information is a commodity bringing fabulous profits, it has ceased to be subject to the traditional criteria of “true or false”. But it has now begun to report to the laws of market forces with their desire for a monopoly and boosting profits.
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