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Online fake news and disinformation: recognize and verify

Learn how to spot and debunk online fake news and disinformation

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CIVIS focus area
Society, culture, heritage
Open to
  • Bachelor's
  • Master's
  • PhD
Field of studies
  • Social Science and humanities
Type
  • Blended Intensive Programmes (BIP)
Course dates
10 October - 19 December 2024
Apply by
28 April 2024 Apply now

One in four European Union citizens trusts information obtained through social media and messaging apps, and one in two believes that it is the responsibility of journalists to fight the spread of fake news, and only one in three believes that it is also the responsibility of citizens.

In the meantime, Facebook has officially reported that, in the last six years, it has identified and deleted more than 29 billion fake accounts, which is almost ten times the total number of active users of the platform and more than 3.65 times the total global population. Studies show that fake news is up to 70% more likely to be shared than real news, real news takes up to six times longer than fake news to reach the same audience, and 59% of links shared on social media are not opened by those who share them, meaning they share them without reading the content.

Also, almost 42.3% of internet traffic in 2021 was made by bots, so not by human beings, which increased compared to the previous year from over 40.8% and from 35.1%, a year before. Almost 27.7% of them were bad bots (which have malicious behaviour, often, of criminality), also up from the previous year, from 25.6%.

The online manipulation, disinformation and fake news have a greater impact on the society than many of us realise. The course we propose teaches the students how to identify online manipulation and disinformation, to debunk fake news and how to avoid becoming their victim, as a journalist, during the day-to-day information verification process, but also as a simple internet user.

The course also helps students understand the psychological mechanisms that guide the behaviour of online and social media users, which are the basis of all persuasive technologies algorithms, technologies that have become great specialists in human persuasion. This course aims to be an introduction  behind  the  scenes  of  the  virtual world in which we all spend more and more time every day (last year, globally, we spent daily, an average, 6 hours and 37 minutes on the Internet).

Main topics addressed

  • Introduction to online disinformation. Conceptual approach (information, disinformation, fake news, mock news, persuasion, influence, lie, rumour, manipulation, propaganda, deceptive communication, strategic deception, alt-edia, alt-fact). The impact of disinformation and fake news in recent scientific research. Gatekeeping and gate watching paradigms from the perspective of selecting and publishing journalistic information.
  • The influence of cognitive biases on the credibility of disinformation and fake news.
  • From messages to emotions - a key ingredient in current research of fake news and critical discourse studies. How emotions work in discourses and how we can use them to fight against the disinformation.
  • Manipulation techniques in the digital environment (cognitive hacking, social hacking, para-social hacking, symbolic actions, disinformation and fake news, counterfeiting and information leakage, "Potemkin villages" type evidence, mistaken identities, bots, "puppets", botnets and cyborgs, trolling and flaming, humour and memes, malicious rhetoric, etc. - The "Lund" Model).
  • Pre-publishing/ broadcasting (ex ante) and post-publishing/ broadcasting (ex post) information verification techniques for text, photo and video. The International Fact-Checking Network and international, European and national fact-checking platforms.
  • Regulations and legislative approach to disinformation. Disinformation and hate speech in international organisations. Models of Regulation among "Digital Empires". European Union regulation: transnational and national policies. Key actors and networks.
  • Digital footprints, personal data and data protection. Cyber security for journalists. "Cambridge Analytica" and "Schrems vs Facebook" - case studies discussions and video (documentary) watching.
  • Fake news hits (to be chosen) - case study discussions.
  • The "Three Step" Fact-Checking Method for text, photo and video.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this programme, the students are expected to:

  • have the skills and knowledge to critically analyse and evaluate media and social content, to debunk disinformation and to carry out pre- and post-publishing/ broadcast information verification activities, ex ante / ex-ost (fact-checking), for text, photo and video (analyse, evaluate, create);
  • understand the psychological mechanisms behind the consumption of media and digital media, and the biases that influence media consumption (analyse, evaluate);
  • understand the legal implications and the ethical issues that misleading communication entails and to apply high standards of deontology as journalists, communication professionals and content creators by critical analysis and by evaluating professional situations from an ethical perspective (understand, analyse, evaluate);
  • effectively navigate and comprehend the concepts of persuasion, disinformation, and manipulation (remember, apply). 
Dates: 10 October - 19 December 2024 Total workload: 120 hours
Format: Blended ECTS: 4*
Locations: Bucharest, Romania Language: English (B1)
Contact: bogdan.oprea@unibuc.ro  

*Recognition of ECTS depends on your home university.

Physical mobility

For the physical part of the course, the students are expected in Bucharest, between 2-6 December 2024. There, they will have:

  • face-to-face class discussions on regulations and legislative approach to disinformation (2h on 2 Dec);
  • face-to-face lecture and class discussions about fake news hits (2h on 2 Dec.);
  • face-to-face lecture and class discussions on digital footprint, personal data, data protection and cyber security for journalists and discussions about the "Cambridge Analytica" and "Schrems vs Facebook" case studies and about a documentary related to the topic: "The Social Dilemma", "The Great Hack" or another (4h on 3 Dec.);
  • face-to-face lecture and class discussions on the pre-publishing/ broadcasting (ex-ante) and post-publishing/ broadcasting (ex-post) information verification techniques and presentations of The International Fact-Checking Network and The European Fact-Checking Standards Network and, also, of the international, European and national fact-checking platforms (2h on 3 Dec.);
  • face-to-face lecture, practical activities and evaluation of fact-checking activities (8h on 4 Dec.);
  • field visit to a fact-checking service newsroom (4h on 5 Dec.);
  • visit to The Romanian Palace of the Parliament (3h) and The Cotroceni Palace - the official residence of the President of Romania (3h - 6 Dec.). 

Virtual part

The virtual part of the programme will be held between 10 October - 19 December and will include:

  • online lecture and class discussions about online disinformation and important related concepts and, also, about the gatekeeping and gatewatching paradigms from the perspective of selecting and publishing journalistic information and the impact of disinformation and fake news in recent scientific research; the political-economy of disinformation and fact-checking, an overview of the producers of disinformations and their motivations, and of the funding and organisation of fact-checking (4h - 10 oct., 17 oct.);
  • online lecture and class discussions about the influence of cognitive biases on the credibility of disinformation and fake news (2h - 24 oct.)
  • online lecture and class discussions about the instrumentalization of emotions in fake news and critical discourse and, also, how emotions work in discourses and how we can use them to fight against the disinformation (2h - 31 oct.);
  • online lecture and class discussions about manipulation techniques in the digital environment (The "Lund" Model) (2h - 7 nov.)
  • online lecture and class discussions about disinformation and hate speech in international organisations, models of regulation among "Digital Empires" (2h - 14 nov.);
  • online lecture, class discussions and practical activities using the "Three Step" Fact-Checking Method for text, photo and video (4h - 21 nov., 28 nov.).

Requirements

This course is open to Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD students at CIVIS member universities, with background-related fields in media and communication.

As for the pedagogical objectives - the students are expected:

  • to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to critically analyse and evaluate media content (news stories, broadcasts, social media posts, other communication content etc.), in order to identify disinformation elements and to detect techniques of manipulation and propaganda (analyse, evaluate, create);
  • to demonstrate the ability to identify and debunk disinformation in the media and social media and to carry out post-publishing/ broadcast information verification activities, ex-post (fact-checking), for text, photo and video (analyse, evaluate, create);
  • to prove the concern for the rigorous verification of the pre-publishing/ broadcasting information verification, ex-ante, and for the accuracy of the media content they produce as journalists, communication professionals, but also as simple content creators (evaluate);
  • to effectively navigate and comprehend the concepts of persuasion, disinformation, and manipulation (remember, apply);
  • to understand the ethical issues that misleading communication entails and to apply high standards of deontology as journalists, communication professionals and content creators by critical analysis and by evaluating professional situations from an ethical perspective (understand, analyse, evaluate);
  • to understand and critically analyse the psychological mechanisms behind the consumption of media, in general, and digital media, in particular, and the biases that influence media consumption (analyse, evaluate);
  • to understand the legal implications of disinformation and manipulation (analyse, evaluate);
  • to demonstrate a good understanding of the need for continuous professional training for journalists in order to adapt to the constantly evolving technological work environment (understand, evaluate). 

NB: Visiting Students - Erasmus Funding Eligibility

To be eligible for your selected CIVIS programme, you must be a fully enrolled student at your CIVIS home university at the time you will be undertaking the programme. Click here to learn more about the eligibility criteria.

Students from CIVIS’ strategic partner universities in Africa cannot apply for participation in this course.

Application process

Send your application by filling in the online application form by 28 April 2024. Don't forget to also include a Motivation Letter

All applications will be evaluatedd based on:

  • relevant knowledge of media and communication;
  • relevant background on the topic of disinformation;
  • relevant digital skills;
  • coherence of the thematic argumentation.

Apply now

Assessment

Students will have to prove that they have acquired the skills to use online information verification tools and to demonstrate a good understanding of how online disinformation works, the psychological mechanisms that make us vulnerable to disinformation and how they can protect themselves and those around them, as journalists and public communication specialists, against disinformation.

Blended Intensive Programme

This CIVIS course is a Blended Intensive Programme (BIP): a new format of Erasmus+ mobility which combines online teaching with a short trip to another campus to learn alongside students and professors across Europe. Click here to learn more about CIVIS BIPs.

GDPR Consent

The CIVIS alliance and its member universities will treat the information you provide with respect. Please refer to our privacy policy for more information on our privacy practices. By applying to this course you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

Bogdan Oprea, Director of the Journalism Department of the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences, Universitatea din București

David Domingo, Chair of Journalism at the Department of Information and Communication Sciences, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Luis Bouza García, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Manuel Alcántara-Plá, Associate Professor at the Linguistics at the Faculty of Humanities and social sciences, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Sorin Costreie, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Universitatea din București

Laurence Dierickx, Researcher and a digital & data journalism teacher at Université Libre de Bruxelles

Taru Haapala, Senior Researcher at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Teodor Răileannu-Olariu, PhD student at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Science, Universitatea „Alexandru Ioan Cuza” Iași

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