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Calling Out Fake News (Part 2)

14 Sep 202215 Mins Audio

Transcript

Speakers:
Dr Omer Ali Saifudeen, Senior Lecturer, SUSS School of Humanities
and Behavioural Sciences

Cynthia Chang (Host)

Speaker

Timecode

Transcript

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00:00:01:59

Welcome to the SUSS series of podcasts that shares, questions, and dives into all things personal development. Because learning never stops, especially after graduation. This series will share insights, ideas, and advice, on shaping ourselves to prepare for a future of uncertainties.

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00:00:24:30

Previously on SUSS Podcast:

Omer

00:00:27:51

Alternate information in this new era of social media and mass information is so accessible.

Omer

00:00:35:07

Now, imagine if they were your voices to spread the right information that can save lives. Why not co-op them?

Cynthia

00:00:42:57

How do we co-op them?

Omer

00:00:43:80

In the first place we shouldn't ostracise them per se. If there was some way in which we can bring this community of journalists together, put mainstream and even alternative voices. Just imagine, all of them coming together. When you know there are bigger things at stake, it's a matter of life and death —can they be your voices to spread the right message to save lives?

Cynthia

00:01:06:21

The challenge is how to get everybody together, right?

Omer

00:01:08:73

That is a challenge.

Cynthia

00:01:09:88

It sounds like there's this emotional component to the information and misinformation, right? What is the impact, however, I mean if people can influence others into misinformation, what is the larger impact of this misinformation?

Omer

00:01:24:09

With a larger impact, what I mentioned is that it can degenerate towards a very polarising discourse, communal fault lines. And at some points, it could even degenerate into hate. And the last thing that I, of course, hope never gets there [is] violence.

Cynthia

00:01:42:81

Very very dangerous and concerning situations you speak of.

Cynthia

00:01:47:38

What can people do to either help themselves or help the people around them to discern what they consume in the media?

Omer

00:01:54:64

There’re so many answers being put forth out there and let's start with the easiest one. Let's say fact-checked information. So what do I do, I just have a whole list of fact-checked information. Okay. All this fake news has been fact-checked, and all the right answers are here.

Omer

00:02:10:50

So if you want to, just go to this website, and you'll get all the right answers. I wish it was so simple. If only. But to be very real about it. It is good. You need to start somewhere. Unfortunately, they may not go there. First and foremost, they’re not going to trust the information that's coming from the fact-checked authorities. But those resources are useful because people who are countering fake news need to know their stuff.

Omer

00:02:36:38

Here's where the other danger comes in. This is a very important message, I feel. We need to have our own facts checked. We need to be very sure of our own information. So if let's say someone has been influenced by disinformation and fake news, imagine if you don't even know your own answers.

Omer

00:02:53:85

And then when they throw in all kinds of statistics and you'll be like, “Uh, well, oh, um”, and you sound like you don't know your stuff. Conviction. A good component of persuasion is whether you persuade someone or not; they judge people on how much conviction they show towards their answers.

Omer

00:03:12:90

If you have someone who truly believes in their answers, confident of their answers, and you see that conviction, you are going to say, “Wait, this is a guy who knows his stuff”. But if let's say you have the right information, but you're kind of waffly in the way you present it, and you're not sure whether it's correct or not, you're going to be eaten up.

Cynthia

00:03:29:24

The same can be said on both sides though. So isn't it dangerous? You can be convicted about real information and misinformation.

Omer

00:03:35:90

That's right. It has to work on a number of levels. First and foremost, let's say you're trying to convince someone who has bought into a number of disinformation and fake news.

Omer

00:03:44:26

First and foremost, you must start with a very soft approach. (Cynthia: Okay) Empathy, alignment with their beliefs. You need to know where they're coming from.

Omer

00:03:54:64

You need to validate what they've been through, at least their experiences and their frustrations. People need to feel as if you listen and you understand the kind of pain they've gone through. You need to show that. Some empathy. You need to start with that. And I heard this from another Grab driver and I have some really good conversations.

Omer

00:04:15:63

And I actually asked this Grab driver. I got most of my materials from them. So if you have some youths and all those who don't want to take the vaccines, what will you tell them? I actually asked him, and he gave a very good answer. And then what he said was this, “Ask them, what do you want?” (Cynthia: Why so?)

Omer

00:04:31:86

What do you want? So then I thought about it – if they don't want to take the vaccine if they are not convinced of something, why don't you question, ask them, have a conversation? What is it that you want to know? What is it that you want? What assurances do you want? When you ask these things, then you get a better insight into where they’re coming from.

Omer

00:04:54:39

You see, we already make an assumption [that] they don't agree because of certain reasons. (Cynthia: Sure) But we are making the assumptions of those reasons. You get what I mean? So understand how did they become this way. So once you know that, then you realise, oh, wait a minute. What this person actually wants to know is not really about this, but it's about something else.

Omer

00:05:13:98

It's got to start with that conversation. So coming back to that empathy, alignment, and conversation. Then you need to come with your information. This is a part which is very dodgy. But I'll touch [on] this very delicately. What I mean is you do have to present a certain stand.

Omer

00:05:31:71

You can explain certain information. No doubt you may not be the best authority for it. But this is the part where I think everyone out there has a role to play in countering disinformation. I will repeat that everyone has a role to play. So if you're going to counter something that is fake news and all that, you have to know your facts. Because you may not be the advocate, but somebody is going to ask you about it.

Omer

00:05:54:96

So if you come equipped with at least the very basic information, it's better than nothing. That's one part. The second thing you need to do is you can direct them to the relevant resources. But you will not win in a prolonged debate. That's not going to happen. What you need to do is you need to give them their agency.

Omer

00:06:14:58

Let me explain what I mean by this. If you are going to handhold them and say, “Little boy, little girl, sorry, you're wrong. Everything you think about is wrong. You don't understand the first thing about critical thinking”. What do you think that's going to happen? You're infantilizing them.

Omer

00:06:30:61

Who do you think you are? But if you say, “Listen, I understand. But have you read this? Why don’t you just take a look at this? And maybe we can meet up over a cup of coffee and we can talk about it”. Let them process it themselves. Give them the agency to think through these issues.

Omer

00:06:47:29

If they trust you enough, they will think it through. Sometimes when you try to convince people, you don't convince them today. But one week later, they're thinking about it. And sometimes what you say one week ago, suddenly comes back to them. You've got to give the process some time. So when they exercise their own agency and come out of it by themselves, that's a very different thing.

Omer

00:07:07:78

It's not because you convince them; you just provided some doors, some gateways. They came out of it by themselves.

Cynthia

00:07:14:88

So taking some time to do that. Not everybody shares the same conviction when they're presented with information and that's quite a long drawn-out process. So in the kind of media climate we have today, people may have very heated, very immediate disagreements.

Cynthia

00:07:30:47

And how do you advise people to come together to handle these kinds of differing opinions?

Omer

00:07:35:34

You can't do this on your own. I personally feel that we need a lot of professionals and when I mean professionals, I mean our professionals on the ground. Now, the thing is that the medical profession has done so much.

Omer

00:07:48:99

There's so much respect given to them. And I'm not talking about the heads of departments and all that kind of stuff. I'm talking about the first responders, those nurses and doctors, and first responders, day and night wearing PE suits and everything. You can see it in their faces. They know the truth.

Omer

00:08:06:57

Now, if you want the best advocates against fake news and all this stuff happening, for example, the COVID case, I can't think of a better example than someone who is in the trenches, who can tell you what is really happening. The problem is, they're kind of busy. Understatement of the century.

Omer

00:08:26:96

You know, they're kind of busy saving lives, and they really do not have the bandwidth to get into all this. So it's kind of sad because the people who are talking a lot about it are not exactly the ones who are at the front lines. But the thing is, I'm trying to see if we can all come together. You can have some middlemen who can sort of bridge this divide, amplify their voices, and bring their stories to the masses.

Omer

00:08:50:96

And I've seen some very beautiful videos on Tik Tok and some of these platforms where some of the nurses actually talked about their experiences dealing with COVID patients and so on. Some of them are so moving. You can find them easily. I'm not going to go into each and every one of them. But more than anything, I think the impact of those videos and those true voices from the ground, those authentic voices of our first responders, I can't think of anything more powerful than that to counter such fake news.

Cynthia

00:09:19:57

With advances in technology, digital media is only going to get ever more prevalent in time to come. Could digital and media literacy evolve for the society of the future?

Omer

00:09:30:07

Definitely. First and foremost, digital information is here to stay. It's the new normal. And, it can be a force for good. Now we've heard about how sometimes in search engine algorithms, you get what you're looking for.

Omer

00:09:43:29

For example, if you're looking for hate narratives, it's going to give you more hate narratives or videos about it and so on. It introduces you to all those kinds of online communities that are spreading that kind of hate. Yes, it does that. But at the same time, imagine if you can get that same algorithm to work for you and to give alternate perspectives that are more life-enriching and positive.

Omer

00:10:08:69

Now there's a step towards this. And I think it was the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who actually mentioned ethical algorithms. Now what she's referring to are algorithms that not only give positive narratives every time and of course fact-checked narratives that counter harmful information. But sometimes algorithms that actually point people towards the kind of information that they actually need.

Omer

00:10:34:93

For example, if someone is frequently visiting websites and platforms that are spreading hate, maybe these individuals have some issues that they're grappling with. They're vulnerable individuals. They're facing some challenges in society and so on and so forth. So what these algorithms can do is actually redirect them towards, for example, psychological or mental health resources.

Omer

00:10:58:09

But of course, when it comes across, it will come across in a manner that says that, are you alone? Do you have no one to talk to? Are you facing difficulties getting a job? Do you feel that no one actually understands you when you're going through all this?

Omer

00:11:11:59

So it’s actually resources that can help them with the kind of real-world challenges that they're facing. So that's a step in the right direction. We do see technology companies working towards this whole idea of ethical algorithms. That’s good. But let's sort of take a step back and sort of drill it down towards what parents can do.

Omer

00:11:32:29

Parents are facing a lot of challenges these days. They're juggling between their work and other commitments. It's not easy being a parent now more than ever. Yeah, there are so many things happening right now. And there are so many things they need to watch out for as well. It's like everywhere you turn and we just talked about digital harm.

Omer

00:11:49:54

Now, let's say the parent is concerned with harmful information coming from electronic sources. I mean, I could give a very easy answer and just say, “Well, the easy solution is just throw away all the devices. You know, switch them all off. Problem solved”. But no, that's not going to happen.

Omer

00:12:04:54

Digital media, digital information is here to say that as the new normal, that is how we have evolved as a society. And we need to learn how to navigate through this. Yes, they need to teach their children and the youth digital literacy. So what can they do? One thing I can advocate is that, teach the youth that there is information beyond what is coming from the screens.

Omer

00:12:27:07

You get good information in conversations, the kind of lived experiences of people. The kind of life stories that they can share. You get a lot from just talking to people. I mean, we just talked enough about Grab drivers just now and all that. Yeah, you get the idea. But taking a step beyond this, there are resources that are already available.

Omer

00:12:46:14

I can tell you about this place that is filled with these things called books. It's called a library. Take the time, go into the real world and actually have a learning journey out of it. This whole idea of a learning journey, in the real world, you know parents can move towards that.

Omer

00:13:03:93

But let's be very practical about things. It's not like there aren’t efforts being made towards digital literacy. There's so much being done by the schools, and parents are doing the best they can in the time they have to bring their children out, to make them experience life in the real world and learn from the real world.

Omer

00:13:22:58

But this is not always possible. For example, single-parent families and so on and so forth. It's not easy being a parent these days. So what can you do then? I was just thinking, can we actually synthesise these various efforts? The kind of information that we are providing for digital literacy, can we amplify some of these voices that are providing the right information, through all these conversations?

Omer

00:13:48:12

And for those who really can’t step out of their houses that much, can we bring this information over to them? So technology is a force for good. You can actually synthesise all these efforts, and of course, get the right advocates who can help such parents in these efforts. It's all about coming together right now. Everybody is trying to make the world a little better.

Omer

00:14:09:52

If we can bring them all together, I think we can create really beautiful magic there.

Cynthia

00:14:14:25

Thank you, Omer. It was really insightful to hear your advice. You mentioned using empathy to gain trust in approaching people who are vulnerable to disinformation. You also shared strategies for people to handle disagreements of opinion in today's media climate.

Cynthia

00:14:31:00

You've also given us some advice on how we could evolve digital literacy for the challenges of the future. Having more agency and respecting diversity of information. I wish you all the best in enabling us to better understand how we can work towards freeing civil discourse from disinformation.

Cynthia

00:14:49:80

Once again, thanks for joining me on the show.

Omer

00:14:52:08

Thank you for having me, Cynthia.

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00:14:55:02

You’ve been listening to the SUSS series of podcasts. To find more episodes, visit suss.edu.sg/podcast.

 

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