Erga Atad: Political Communication and Misinformation

On February 19th, the second conference within the set of Current Topics in Strategic Communication organized by Youthquake Talks took place. Israeli Professor Erga Atad inspired everyone with her dynamic style and her extensive knowledge of Political Communication and Misinformation. 

The Professor started by pointing out the current context of news consumption, and the profile of consumers themselves. “We are not passive consumers of information” stated Professor Atad, while showing statistics of Things that happen on the internet every 60 seconds. However, she explained how, even if we consume large amounts of information, we do not trust it: “People see the information as inaccurate.” Moreover, “we do not understand it” either.

Atad continued the conference by showing different definitions of fake news, taking into account examples as relevant as the 2016 US elections. Though there are many definitions of the phenomenon, she explained, one of them in specific is used more frequently. The definition includes two elements that have to be present in order to classify information as fake news: “the intention of the actor to mislead us” and second, “the level of facts present” (See Table 1). According to the classification, Atad identified certain typologies of fake news that one might not associate with the phenomenon: News satire, news parody, or even native advertising. Moreover, the phenomenon itself has been related to other popular terminologies, such as disinformation and misinformation. The speaker stressed the difference between the two: misinformation can be false and mislead consumers, but it is not deliberately done by the actor; disinformation is deliberate, and the actor actively tries to mislead.

However difficult tackling the problem might be, Erga Atad drew attention to possible initiatives to combat fake news. Moreover, she analysed the challenge of engaging technology companies to fight the phenomenon too. The speaker pointed out the difficulty of asking social media platforms, such as Facebook, to regulate the amount of fake news. Atad explained that these companies “do not have the motivation” to do so, and “do not want to be involved with all the regulation” it would bring. Nevertheless, the speaker did present solutions that individuals could adopt to combat fake news. As Atad put it: “the most important thing … is to check the information you are consuming. Use Google and other sources, make sure before you publish information that it isn’t fake.” Once again, Atad reminded the audience that they “have an active role” on the situation, and hence, in participating to solve the problem.

Thus, the students of Comillas CIHS learnt more about the challenging nature of fake news, present in numerous spheres such as political communication.  Atad concluded her talk by emphasising the role of individuals in fighting the phenomenon, and possible solutions available to consumers in order to identify fake news. She emphasized the need to “check the information we are consuming”. Our strategy “before trying to solve fake news globally,” is that “we should think about ourselves first.”

Angélica Rodríguez Peña

Aitana Sánchez Mascaraque