2018 News Digital Media Viability Lab

Day 1 of the “Fake News and Media Viability” conference

Today Maharat Foundation launched the international conference on “Fake News and Media Viability” organized jointly with Deutsche Welle Akademie between the 24th and the 26th of April, 2018 at Crowne Plaza Hotel- Hamra, Beirut. The 3 days conference is aiming at discussing the arising issue of fake news and the way media is dealing with it. This conference is organized within the framework of the “Digital Media Viability Lab” initiative which aims to provide concrete solutions to the problems media institutions are facing in the digital age, and how to approach viability by supporting innovation to help develop future ready business models that can create and distribute quality content.

The conference started with a welcoming note from Sandra Van Edig,  Lebanon country manager for Deutsche welle Akademie; and from Roula Mikhael, the Executive director of Maharat Foundation who emphasized that the conference is coinciding with the parliamentary elections in Lebanon, the time when fact checking is mostly needed from media.

Sylvie Coudray, the Chief of Section for Freedom of Expression at UNESCO- France made a presentation about fake news and freedom of media where she considered that there is no unified definition of “fake news” and the term comes under the chaos of data.

A session was held about the meaning of fake news around the world, where experts and journalists discussed the definition of fake news and how its meaning differs among countries. This session was facilitated by Dima Tarhini, a Senior Anchor and Editor at DW Arabic. The session engaged an interactive discussion between the audience and Rami Rhayem, Reporter, BBC-Lebanon, Ranjan Roy, the  CEOof The Edge Group in USA, Cristina Tardáguila, the Director of  Agência Lupa in Brazil, and Sayed Torky, the  Executive Editor in Chief of Al-Menassa in Egypt.

New Tools for Fact Checking

A workshop was held within the “Fake News and Media Viability” conference about new tools for fact checking, that was moderated by Dr. Walid Al Saqaf, a senior lecturer in Journalism & Media Technology at Södertörn University in Stockholm. The workshop presented many tools for fact checking, like checking the source, or the name of the writer, or photos and videos that has been published. Al Saqaf stressed the fact that each event or news piece requires a different tool for fact checking. He presented the websites that help in fact checking and talked about the role of some technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence in fighting disinformation.

Are legislations the best solution for dealing with fake news?

Within the “Fake News and Media Viability” conference that is being held today in Beirut, organized by Maharat Foundation and Deutsche Welle Akademie, a session was held that discussed the issue of laws and legislations aiming at answering two main questions: are laws and legislations the best solutions for disinformation? And what are the risks on freedom of expression in case of governmental interference?

This session was moderated by Nizar Saghiyeh, the executive director of Legal Agenda, during which experts discussed the procedures that has been taken around the world, with a focus on the effect of disinformation on elections.

Saloua Ghazouani Oueslati, the MENA director of Article 19 in Tunisia talked about the governmental control of sources of information and legislations at the same time. She emphasized the importance of freedom of expression as a priority in our region, saying that counting on legislations to limit fake news will endanger freedom of expression and won’t be efficient in limiting disinformation.

Mikko Salo, the founder of Faktabaari (FactBar) and member of EU High-Level, considered that what we are dealing with today is disinformation on the internet which means wrong and inaccurate information that causes intentional harm and aims at gaining profit. He stated that the European Union are trying in the draft laws related to fake news to avoid censorship and promote transparency, and the EU don’t see the laws as the most effective way to fight fake news stressing the fact that solutions start in raising awareness and promoting critical thinking and giving platforms the opportunity of fact checking.

The lawyer Tony Mikhael, the legal expert at Maharat Foundation tackled this issue from a legal point of view. He talked about the Lebanese publication law and the audio visual law that convict the publication of any fake news aiming at causing harm in media, but these laws did not include the social media as they were adopted before the rise of such platforms. Mikhael also tackled the issue of imprisoning activists and bloggers using the vague texts of the current laws, and talked about the current electoral law that bans the promotion of fake news during electoral campaigns only.

At the end of the session, participants raised their questions and exchanged opinion, thoughts, and experiences in media.

Let’s make “Fake News”

The first day of the “Fake News and Media Viability” conference ended up with group work on making fake news, where teams had to come up with an idea for some fake news and a strategy to make it go viral. The aim of this game was to show how easy it is to mislead the audience. This part was moderated by Mohamed Najem, a digital rights activist and co-founder Social Media Exchange (SMEX) in Lebanon. The teams came up with some fake news like: “the professional player Mohamad Salah was called by the Egyptian government for forced recruitment”, “resignation of candidate Hassan Zaiter from the solidarity list in Kesrewan-Jbeil after the keys to the city were offered to Hasan Nasrallah” “WikiLeaks: Lebanese politicians involved in delaying the extract of oil and gas for the benefit of some neighboring countries” “Hezbollah is trying to re-establish the Syrian intelligence centers in Lebanon” and many others; and by the end of the session the team who came up with the  fake news about the player Mohamad Salah was the master of disinformation, which reflects the importance of the conference held to fight the dissemination of Fake News.