Hunting for Voters? Countering Political Micro-targeting and Big Data Exploitation in Times of Elections

Aida Sanchez, Fatima Ali, Jordan Higgins, Marcella Via, Paz Marquez Arellano, Renjani Pusposari, Bruna Maria Do Rego, Aroa Molero Gonzalez, and Sonia Reveyaz

Political microtargeting is threatening media pluralism and democracy at a global level, with Facebook influencing political campaigns in 66 countries, half of which are European states. Due to their opaque nature, algorithms are manipulating voters’ behavior and politicians are well aware of this trend. In times where the hearts and minds of people are gained via posts, campaign budgets are invested in colonizing the digital arena. Within this context, investigative journalists are the ones who need to hold algorithms to account to protect users’ data, assuring the respect of democratic values.

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Losing My Attention? Journalism’s Renewed Interest in Content and Membership Models

Janneke Aerssens, Spriha Dhanuka, Katharina Beck, Rosanna Fanni, Ana Sofia Madrid Vargas, Sameer Padania, Giordano Zambelli, Mehmet Solmaz

Attention has always been a finite resource, even more so in an era of super abundance of information. Having the power to attract and manage it has been a struggle from the moment citizens had a say in what happens in society. Attention merchants were already there, before the internet and the so-called information society. Why then is attention now such a hot topic? Has the attention economy trapped the news industry? Is there a fire exit?

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Journalism in the Digital Storm

Bianca Manelli, Chantal Cocherová, Georgios Evgenidis, Jiahuan He, Lara Corrado, Suhasni      Midha, Yuliia Hladka, Zeynep Atilgan Ozgenc

What is news? What makes somebody a journalist? In the era of social media and blogs, the answers to these questions are not as clear as they were 10 years ago. With professional journalism still struggling to work through the digitalization of media, the rise of citizen journalism challenges the definition of both news and journalist.

Citizen smartphone journalism

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Is Media Capture the Chief Culprit in Hindering Media Independence?

Greta Bitante, Nadine Lakhal, Jinhong Park, Laura Sanz, Mengzhi Zeng, Ieva Zinovičiūtė

Without any doubt, media capture has quickly become one of the world’s most difficult and intractable problems. In a growing number of countries, collusion between governments and wealthy media owners is becoming the preferred method of political consolidation and for maintaining the power of a small elite. Aggravated by the economic weakness of the traditional news business and the growing concentration of ownership of media industries, media capture has become one of the major tools for undermining democratic societies and handing them over to authoritarian rule.

It is well known that in some authoritarian regimes, media are often biased. The lack of media independence generally has to do with media capture by political interests. In countries such as Turkey, Russia or Egypt, media outlets are mostly state-owned and the content being published is strictly controlled, which goes totally against democratic values and freedom of expression. However, media capture is not the same as censorship imposed from a State, since it operates through collaboration between media owners and the State. As Andrew Finkel argues, captured media often chases its audiences with screaming headlines, political intrigue, with the aim of influencing a large number of people while maintaining the favour of the Government.

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Press Freedom Status in Turkey: From Free to Not Free

Anna-Katharina Ahnefeld, Oyumaa Batsukh, Merve Keçeli, Yu-Hsuan Lin and Man Wai Tam

Independent journalism in Turkey is now at its darkest moment. In merely a decade, the country has turned from a place with improving press freedom to a prison for journalists. In 2004, Turkey stood 98 among 167 countries on the press freedom ranking released by Reporters Without Borders. In 2018, the number dropped to 157. The drastic decline in press freedom, together with the rising authoritarian ruling, has made Turkey the most freedom-deteriorating country in the world.

As of May 11, there are 192 journalists jailed, 142 wanted in Turkey. While the upcoming Presidential Election on June 24 is showing intense competition, candidates from opposition parties are heavily oppressed and the Turkish media are forced to give unanimous voice.  Selahattin Demirtaş, presidential candidate from People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has been running his campaign from the jail. TRT (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation), the national broadcaster, is criticized for only broadcasting mass meetings held by the current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Another candidate, Meral Akşener from İYİ Party, claims that news workers at a television channel were fired only because of broadcasting her mass meeting for 10 seconds.

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Being Responsible in the Age of Fake News

Catalina Barja, Elizabeth Castillo, Darya Chernokova, Alfonso Alonso Herrera, Hande Karasu and Sangam Silpakar

The internet revolution and the rise of Web 2.0 have not only disrupted society with abundance of information but also have empowered citizens by allowing them to participate in content generation process. Users are no longer passive participants of media. They not only create contents but reach millions of other people by self-mass communication through social networking sites. Unfortunately, such freedom has caused interference in the flow of information through the distribution of fake news.

Although the existence of fake news can be traced back to 1439 in the name of yellow journalism and propaganda, the term gained its popularity due to the US Presidential election in 2016. During this period, false news across the political spectrum gained more visibility in social media. A survey conducted by Eurobarometer in all the European Union member states in 2018 shows that online media users encounter more fake news than traditional media users. While the term ‘Fake News’ is believed to be a populist term, the High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) formed by the European Commission to tackle fake news has instead termed it ‘online disinformation’. Nevertheless, in a democratic era where everyone’s opinion is valued, who is to define what is true and false, as “one man’s fake news is another’s truth-telling”.

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Towards a Digital and Media-Literate Europe: a Long and Winding Road?

Lorin Akbiyik, Rovena Carvalho Ferreira, Rodelio Concepcion, Andira Figueroa Vargas, Sasha Miller, Sara Teklay

In the core of today’s digital society, social media reigns supreme. It combines social interactions, entertainment and source of news, not to mention that it created a shift from users as mere spectators to users also as creators of content. On your timelines you see not only posts from the friends, groups and pages that you follow (which normally already include a large amount of clickbait, but also, due to the work of algorithms, suggested posts come around often. To be able to comb through this sea of information floating around – which may include hate speech, fake news and other harmful content – and distinguish what are reliable sources or not, being a digital and media literate is paramount.

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Digital and media illiterates are easier prey to online fake news, senior citizens are considered more vulnerable in this scenario.

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