UnfakingNews: Combating Disinformation


Why is it that nowadays it’s more difficult than ever to identify truth from fiction, if our knowledge about who we are is much greater than it’s ever been? Does being more informed today mean being better informed?

UnfakingNews presents itself with the aim of explaining, exploring and contextualizing this new phenomenon in which along with the semantic umbrella that has been constructed in recent years around the concept of fake news, other similar curiousities have started to appear in the form of misinformation, post-truth, alternative facts, echo chambers, filter bubbles, clickbait and content farms.

To understand how we arrived at the current situation, we must analyze the relationship between the media and technology companies akin to that of a technolocal village, in which large corporations have become agents of power at the local level and mirrors of reality on a global level. As a consequence of this artificial symbiosis, we can see this effect reflected on the relationship between voters and consumers of information, the role of segmented advertising and big data; as well as the consequences that this Big Brother of Marketing has on the progress and improvement of the democratic quality of our societies.

It has become impossible to try to set this this scenario apart from the two great political agents who create, distribute and collide around information wars of the 21st century, the USA. and Russia. However, beyond its political component, disinformation has a clear economic objective. With such intentions, Unfakingnews aims to confront these so-called content farms and describe the consequences that both their existence and their success have on our informative environment.

Raúl Magallón
Professor of Journalism and Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad Carlos III of Madrid

Ismael Nafría: “Paying for Information is Today an Inevitable Choice for the Survival of the Media”

Ismael Nafría, author of the book “The Reinvention of The New York Times“, has been advising media outlets around the world for years. He knows well the journalistic business and understands the challenges that the media faces today in these moments of change and uncertainty. We review with him some of the issues have been stirring the most controversy lately such as the phenomenon of fake news, although he himself prefers to call it misinformation.

It is precisely this issue that we tackled the first few moments of our talk. In Nafría’s view, there are three tasks that must be undertaken to combat the spread of false news. The first task, he says, places us within social media, where thousands of pieces of fake news are disseminated every day. In his opinion, these platforms must intensify their control over all sources that dedicate themselves to spreading misinformation. “This task is very complex and especially affects Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter … or Google searches. They have to establish the maximum number of possible control measures so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, ” he adds.

The second task, in his opinion, is to ensure the public’s media literacy all the way from school. “Trying to foster a more critical mentality among the population when it comes to interpreting certain content and making them understand whether or not they are reading reliable material, so that they be extra careful when it comes to redispersing such information through their social platforms” is a fundamental objective that, according to Nafría, we must take on as a society.

Finally, the media has two jobs. “The media ought not to contribute to misinformation. They have a great responsibility when it comes to not spreading false news, because they must assume their professional role of informing, “he says. “Those media outlets that spread false news, unverified, do a disservice to the entire sector.” In this sense, it is clear: it is necessary to be stricter when applying the essential principles of journalism, which are, confirming the topics, verifying that the sources are reliable …

But, in addition to all of this, it is important that the media help us to understand how the world of misinformation works and that they would identify specific cases. “I’m not saying that this means for them to carry out a continuous analysis of everything that is spread; It wouldn’t be possible given the sheer amount of false news circulating, but they ought to explain the most serious cases, helping identify them and justify why they are such, ” he stresses. This, along with a willingness to be more transparent: how information is prepared, how it is verified … These types of actions would help tremendously to tackle the problem of misinformation.

Although this has become one of the hot topics that today occupies the media, especially when they get embroiled in some scandal of the like, the truth is that the business model that will sustain newspapers is still the main concern among those who govern the destiny of the press.


Payment, a Business Model

Asked how the media can convince the audience to pay for information, Ismael Nafría admits that it is a complicated objective, but at the same time he assures that it is an inevitable option “if we want to guarantee the media’s survival”.

In order to carry out that task, he is convinced that the media must come up information that is truly of quality and pertinent to its audience, be it generalist or a more niche sort. In his opinion, one of the premises that he usually shares with those responsible for the media is that it is better to bet on less information yet of higher quality than for an immense volume that doesn’t bring the publica any value. “I think that there is a saturation and that generic information provides very little value,” he adds, adding that “people are willing to pay for information, but they don’t expect you to flood and saturate them, rather they want you to offer them things that have value. and with which they enjoy”, because this also serves as a purpose of information. “A well told story tells wonderous tales,” he says.

However, they are not the only efforts that the media have to take to build payment walls around their contents. There is another area where there is a long way to go and it is the relationship with the audience. As Nafría explains, it is vital that the audience be truly involved. But not only a posteriori, as is usually done, but before the published information. It is about getting them to participate, that they contribute their contents, their experiences, their knowledge about certain topics. And this is not easy to happen. There are examples, however, such as the Reader Center section of The New York Times, where queries and requests from users are answered, as well as their participation in many current issues. The data on its success are compelling. “In its first year since its birth, it has managed 600 different requests to readers on very different topics,” he says.

Ismael Nafría considers that the decision to charge for the information must be accompanied by other measures and one of the most important has to do with the relationship established with the audience. “If you want your audience to pay, you must work hard and keep it in mind,” he says. From there, you should experiment with all the formats that allow building a direct and close relationship with your community around the medium. One of the formats that is working is the newsletter because it is a tool that generates “very effective connection and engagement with the audience”. Format with more projection and that is starting to become more frequently used is the podcast, although in Spain it isn’t yet really an option for many editors.

That the payment for the information is irremediable at the moment, does not mean – to clarify – that it is the solution to income stream problems. But it has to be seen as an additional way which is becoming increasingly important and that will end up being the main income stream as is already happening in certain media such as with The New York Times.

The Situation with Spain

So what’s happening in Spain? Did editors finally decide to charge for information?

Nafría assures that everything points to the fact that the editors will decide throughout this year regarding payment. There are already some media, he adds, that are charging for information such as the regional and local newspapers of the Vocento group or the Catalan daily Ara.

However, will media outlets that opt for payment not lose audiences to the benefit of  “free” ones? This premise, which was used years ago, has no validity as such, according to Nafría. For him, although readers may be lost, the most important aspect is that the medium is able to achieve a loyal following. We are witnessing the failure of a model, based on audience hunting, which not only makes no sense, but also is dysfunctional. Therefore, it is more sensible and beneficial to increase the loyal audience “with which the media can count on for those that need them, rather than increasing the number of users who whiz through the site once a month without realizing it.”

In any case, it is clear that the loss of audience is always related to the type of strategy that the media puts into practice. But, even if readers lost, it is far wiser to focus on winning loyal users who interact and get involved with the medium of choice.

Bárbara Yuste
Director of Digital Communication at Proa Comunicación

Find Me a Foe and I’ll Win

If there have been two outrageous episodes of the fake news being spread by robots through social networks managed by communication consultancies, they are the Cambridge Analytica and Birnbaum & Finkelstein incidents. Of the first one, almost everything is known. That Facebook “sold” to Cambridge Analytica – for academic purposes -, detailed information of 50 million of its users without their permission and violating their own terms and policies of use, is now public knowledge.

“Through an application designed to as a questionnaire about the personality and political interests of its respondents and their friends, we built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their hibernating demons,” recalls Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge employee who unveiled the scandal.

Donald Trump contracted in 2016 more than 6.2 million dollars worth of these services of this consultancy, aiming to spreading millions of personalized messages with false information about his opponents (Obama, Hillary Clinton …) among an audience willing and receptive to such messaging. Cambridge knew their predisposition to receive personalized stimuli based on their emotional state and political leaning. Nobody doubts that this campaign was decisive for the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. But little is known about the demonization of the financier Georges Soros orchestrated around the world by the tandem Birnbaum & Finkelstein, commissioned by the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban.

According to Hannes Grassegger in Buzzfeednews, the team of the famous investor and philanthropist of Hungarian origin was caught by surprise by a flood of fake news, all negative, referring to him and his professional activities. A perverse character, drug dealer, extremist, Nazi conspirator, Jew, who helped the collapse of the Soviet Union to fill Europe with Islamist refugees. A wave of insults for supporting the Democratic Party of the United States and criticizing the Brexit of the United Kingdom. You just have to look on social media to see for yourself the avalanche of insults thrown at him in various languages languages, including Spanish.

George Eli Birnbaum and Arthur Finkelstein, Jews like Soros himself, worked secretly since 2008 for Viktor Orban’s campaign. Their electoral victory showed them the success of their strategy.

Finkelstein, now deceased, had developed a method that became a practical guide for modern populism. Its premise is based on the fact that each election is decided before it starts. “The majority of voters know who they will vote for, what they support and what they oppose. It is very difficult to convince them otherwise. It’s much easier to demoralize people than to motivate them. And the best way to win is to demoralize your opponent’s supporters. ” That is what Trump did to great effect against Hillary Clinton, and what he really meant when, after the election, he thanked American blacks for not going out to vote.

We don’t have to go very far to confirm that the method has expanded. Voters are motivated by simple questions and consultants polarize with fear about these simple issues. “And whoever doesn’t attack first, will be the victim, the defeated,” to the point that exaggerations or flat-out lies about the opponent is fair game to destroy your opponent. His advice to client candidates would be to not talk about themselves, but focus their campaign on destroying their opponents. Flood the discourse through social networks and other platforms with streams of false or suspicious news of the opponent to defeat and destroy.

Always identify an enemy; if it isn’t Soros for embodying liberalism or dangerous foreign capital, it will be the fear of the Islamization of Europe by refugees, of immigrants stealing jobs, of the gender violence law that crushes men, of agreements with the separatists that are tearing Spain apart …

Inmaculada G. Mardones
Editor of Geotermia Online. Formerly Section Leader at EL PAÍS and Communications Director of the Ministry of Development

Borja Bergareche, Chief Innovation Officer at Vocento, will participate in the next PROA Comunicación Observatory.

Friday, October 26th, a new edition of the Observatorios de PROA Comunicación will be held at Degussa’s headquarters. Borja Bergareche, Chief Innovation Officer at Vocento, will take part in the presentation: ‘Profitable journalism in the era of fake news and Silicon Valley platforms’.

In the era of fake news, the value of information and credibility has acquired a new dimension. The media, in their aim to adapt to the challenges presented by the digital environment, have to look for other formulas to make their contents profitable. Innovation is no longer an option, but an obligation.

Borja Bergareche has led the creation of the new Vocento Media Lab and is responsible for driving the company’s digital transformation strategy and innovation projects. A lawyer and journalist, he has been the deputy digital director, London correspondent and the Senior International Editor of the newspaper ABC, and has also written for El Correo (Bilbao), El País and La Nación (Buenos Aires).

At the international level, he is a member of the Advisory Council for Europe of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York, and in 2011 he published “Wikileaks Confidential”, reflecting on the implications of leaks for the press and international diplomacy. In the past he has worked as an advisor for international and constitutional affairs in the European Parliament and the European Commission.

In the academic field, he is a journalism professor at La Universidad CEU San Pablo in Madrid and teaches classes for ABC/Complutense´s master’s degree in Journalism. He has a degree in Law from the University of Deusto (Bilbao) and a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University (New York), with a Fulbright scholarship.