The disinformation spread can only be countered by early detection

It is crucial to develop tools that would enable early detection of disinformation, available to the media, fact-checking organizations, and anyone interested in debunking. Early warning that disinformation is spreading, and that it may go viral, is a crucial moment whether people will decide to accept this disinformation or not, is the conclusion of the conference “Open Data Against The Infodemic“, organized by Gong and the civil hackers group Code for Croatia, as part of Open Data Day.

“The idea of ​​ODD is to gather data enthusiasts and promote data use as a valuable social resource with which we can build a better society,” said Oriana Ivković Novokmet, Gong’s Executive Director. She further stated that the infodemic is spreading faster than COVID-19, and its consequences for society and democracy could end up being extremely dangerous.

“Open data and their use is extremely important for increasing transparency in society, and by involving various groups of citizens in the implementation of socially beneficial projects, we are building and improving our community. You don’t have to have the technical knowledge to join the Code for Croatia civil hacker group and take part in tomorrow’s challenges at the Hackathon, ”said Lana Podgoršek, the head of Code for Croatia.

The panel called “COVID Data and the Suppression of Disinformation” answered questions regarding how data can help create better strategies for dealing with the infodemic and combating the consequences of disinformation, how disinformation about COVID-19 spread, who are the most influential disinformers, who spreads disinformation the most, and what is the role of mainstream media and fact-checking media.

“Through the analysis of social networks, for which we obtained data from Faktograf and the data published on Facebook, several subgroups within the disinformation ecosystem were identified, which, along with the Republic of Croatia, consists of all countries of former Yugoslavia. The source of disinformation are highly networked and willing to share the same content. Croatian extreme right-wingers share the same content as Serbian extreme right-wingers”, warned Mato Brautović from the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Dubrovnik.

Ana Meštrović, from the Faculty of Informatics and Digital Technologies at the University of Rijeka, warned that social networks shape attitudes, especially among young people, and in times of global crisis.

“We have developed algorithms to track attitudes on Twitter. We analyzed more than 200,000 Croatian tweets related to COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, public attitudes were even positive. People have consolidated to face the pandemic together, calling for the need to stay at home. However, through the tweet analysis from the last two years of the pandemic, it turned out that the cases of positive attitudes were so few, that we had to specifically adjust algorithms for the automatic classification of Tweet attitudes. The largest cluster of tweets we detected dealt with pandemic measures and vaccinations. The second most numerous cluster is related to the pandemic coping. These two clusters make up 50% of all discussions on Twitter in Croatia “, explained Professor Meštrović.

Slobodan Beliga, from the Faculty of Informatics and Digital Technologies, University of Rijeka, added that the research on the InfoCoV project, funded by the Croatian Science Foundation, monitored over 25 online news portals, and the research published in the prestigious JMIR Public health and Surveliance science journal focused on on the 10 most read portals, with the aim of longitudinal monitoring of the infodemic in the Republic of Croatia.

“Almost 50% of publications in mainstream online portals are related to COVID-19 on a daily basis. Therefore, almost every other news piece that we read during the first and second pandemic waves was related to COVID-19, ”he pointed out.

Professor Beliga noted that they found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the same set of about a hundred words was most often used in the mainstream media, among which stand out, alongside the obvious ones like ‘COVID’ and ‘coronavirus’ – Capak, Beroš, Markotić, Đikić, oxygen, pandemic, disinformation, pharmacy, and paracetamol.

“Of course, this affects the narrative and public opinion. In the first wave we focused more with the topics of hygiene in the media, while in the second it was vaccination. Also, the research notes that the media wrote less about scientists (experts such as virologists and infectologists), and that statements about the pandemic in the media were more often made by politicians, “Beliga explained.

“It is crucial to develop tools that would enable early detection of disinformation, and that would be available to the media, fact-checking organizations and anyone interested in debunking. An early warning that disinformation is beginning to spread, and that it may go viral, is crucial moment whether people will accept this disinformation or not. Fact-checking organizations need an average of 10 days to debunk. We need to inform people before they develop an opinion. It has been scientifically proven that we can influence opinion only until an attitude is already formed. Prohibitions and censorship have a counter-effect on people who believe and are prone to conspiracy theories and disinformation. The biggest disseminators of disinformation are the elderly, generations who had a high degree of trust in the media and institutions. Out of ignorance, they often spread disinformation. Therefore, public campaigns and media literacy should target citizens of older age”, explained Professor Professor Brautović.

“We still do not know which public sector data will be a priority for opening after the amendments to the Law on Access to Information, and we do not know how the priorities will be decided,” concluded Jagoda Botički from the office of the Commissioner for Information, during the “Data only for the Rich” panel.

“Spatial data exist on state portals. Only this data is closed. Each piece of information has its own value. I think we have fallen behind last year in terms of information access, at least as far as our ministry is concerned. Environmental data is being closed down “, pointed out Mate Zec, head of the program for IT and data analysis from BIOM.

Hrvoje Bogner from OpenStreetMap Croatia added that it turned out that the data, that is, maps, were very easy to open, which was evident during the earthquake in the Sisak-Moslavina County.

The European Open Data Directive has included spatial data, environmental data and company owners among the high-value data sets that must be opened first. Access to most of this data is being charged, and as an example Bogner cited the case when the State Geodetic Authority tried to charge him over one million kuna for the spatial data they requested, with a 50% discount.

Zec pointed out that Biom hopes that the data, on which the basis of environmental studies are made, will be opened: “This would improve the ease at which we get to data necessary for the preparation of research studies, the creation of the studies themselves would be cheaper, and everyone could check what’s in the study, and what’s in the official data. The only ones who would not like to open this data are people who intend to cheat.”

Zoran Luša, an open data expert from Zoogle Consulting, explained, within the panel “Who pays us”, how to strengthen the capacity of people in the public sector, and make it attractive to IT staff, so that public data is published and updated more often.

“The more the data is made public, the more it can be processed and new insights can be gained. In general, we lack the demand for data – whether from citizens through civil sector organisations and journalists to companies”, he added.

Regardless of the fact that more than 52,000 non-profit organizations are registered in Croatia, when we talk about civil society, about 27,000 are active. The number of persons employed in non-profit organizations in 2020 was 28,418, of which 18,990 are in civil sector organisations.

Alll three panels can be viewed on Gong’s YouTube channel.

Gong is a Knowledge Center in the field of civic activism and building democratic institutions of society within the Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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