University of São Paulo: Disinformation and social inequality are topics of online seminar

The arrival of the elections causes chills in the memory. We remember 2018, the flood of fake news – a beautiful expression for a much more direct word: lie – and the hole into which this flood of disinformation led us. A little more recent in time, and just as frightening, we had the anti-vaccination campaign and the messianic propaganda for chloroquine. And we can’t forget about flat earth, the gay kit, Ursal…

It is difficult to escape all the fraudulent news that arrive in Whatsapp groups, Facebook posts, Youtube videos. It requires some skill and, above all, conditions to suspect strange information and discern truths and lies. And social inequalities decisively affect the possibility of confronting fake news.

Reflections on this urgent topic make up the online seminar Disinformation, Communication Inequalities and Regulation , which takes place on April 8th. Promoted by the group Jornalismo, Direito e Liberdade – linked to the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) and the Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA), both from USP -, the event will have the participation of professors Dennis de Oliveira, from ECA, and David Nemer of the University of Virginia, author of the book Technology of the Oppressed: Inequality and the Digital World in Brazil’s Favelas .

According to Vitor Blotta, professor at ECA and mediator of the seminar, access to the media – printed, electronic or digital – is a right guaranteed by documents such as the Declaration of Human Rights and the Brazilian Constitution. However, there are a number of obstacles to the realization of this access.

First, there is the problem of the technological infrastructure to guarantee digital inclusion, such as access to free broadband. Signal access is the basic level for obtaining information. Its distribution across the country, however, is quite uneven.

“We have access to the internet in most parts of the country, but it is not of high quality and most of it is geared towards mobile communication. This access is very limited by plans made in partnership with technology and telecommunications companies.” This is the case with pre-paid internet plans, which offer unlimited access to applications such as Whatsapp and Facebook, but restrict browsing on sites that would make it possible to check information posted on these networks.

Another challenge pointed out by Blotta involves media education. An issue, emphasizes the professor, which involves a structural gap, related to the inequality in the formation of the population. This inequality is reflected in the conditions both for accessing and interacting with the media and for reacting critically to them.

“If we think in the densest sense of the question, it involves digital and informational literacy, this participation that takes place throughout life in the context of communication”, points out Blotta. A sphere that cannot be dissociated from the third node of the relationship between disinformation and inequality: the conditions for participation in the sphere of public discussion.

This is where political education comes into play, an education focused on democratic participation in forums and spaces for exchanging ideas and decisions. Combined, media and political education would allow questioning and denunciation, not only of information that circulates through the networks, but also of public policies. This is all, of course, as long as the technological conditions of access are assured.

Technologies of the Oppressed
Faced with this scenario of inadequacies in the treatment of the issue by the government, historically marginalized groups find their own ways of reacting to disinformation, making use of what David Nemer calls “technologies of the oppressed”, referring directly to the educator Paulo Freire. The production of contextualized information and more directly related to local territories is one of the strategies related to these technologies.

An example of this is the peripheral schools of journalism, highlights Blotta. These schools act as channels for the production of information and narratives that can block and offer critical content against information that circulates fraudulently. They can be useful, continues the professor, in very common situations, such as the emergence of false information in apparently reliable Whatsapp groups, such as church or family groups.

“I see with great interest and joy these centers, counter-hegemonic places, producing counter-narratives and problematizing classic journalism issues, such as the fulfillment of their ethical duties”, points out the professor.

electoral scenario
Blotta doesn’t believe the 2022 election will be a repeat of what we saw in 2018. As much as oppressor technologies – another term used by David Nemer in his work – are looking for platforms with low content moderation, there is a bigger siege around it. from them. This, however, does not guarantee that the problems will cease to exist.

“Everything is still in the medium term”, says the professor. “Training of TSE (Superior Electoral Court) employees and whistleblowing channels are very welcome, but there is the issue of punishment for candidacies that to some extent are involved in improper campaign financing through companies paying for digital marketing. There are still no hard rules, they are punishing companies very indirectly and they are not reaching the platforms or the candidacies.”

The professor defends the prohibition of the promotion of electoral materials on platforms, as he understands that it generates abuse of economic power and constitutes indirect financing of campaigns. “If the funding is only public, it cannot be done by boosting.”

Whether in the electoral context or in everyday fake news, Blotta believes that universities also have a role in this battle against disinformation. According to the professor, platforms, higher education institutions and other research centers need to work together on improving Artificial Intelligence to deal with fraudulent information.

“Only with Artificial Intelligence will we be able to do a more efficient job of detecting disinformation hubs and working with the demonetization of these channels. Platforms are still very reluctant to show how they map and partnerships with universities should advance. This is a strong way to show that we are against disinformation”, says Blotta.