(Anti) social networks is the title of the fifth UNIR debate of the course, a debate to address the issue of fake news and the role of the media. The session took place yesterday with the participation of Maria Luisa Cárdenas Rica, professor and doctor in communication. The UNIR project is an initiative that aims to provide a space to promote critical thinking and awareness through discussion and debate.

Sergio Cerrillo began the discussion with a reflection on social networks, tools created for socializing that paradoxically increasingly isolate us in bubbles. He then gave way to a short film in which an elderly woman has all the hoaxes she has sent in Whatsapp chains materialized at home.

María Luisa Cárdenas began her speech by commenting that there is always a tendency to point the finger at the media as the culprit for everything. “The media also play a very important role in democracy and offer critical content, but they are indeed companies that make money from their news and therefore need an audience.”

The guest posed a series of questions to the audience of the debate. “Do you think that the media is solely responsible for creating critical people? Do you think that it is only the media’s job?” The media also have the function of translating what is going on in society, of explaining world events in a language that is understandable to the majority of the population. “The problem also lies in the fact that the media have ended up being sold to non-journalistic companies that care little about their social responsibility,” she said.

In addition to the sensationalism that we sometimes find in the media, which respond to this need for an audience, fake news are spread above all through social networks, through WhatsApp chains that are forwarded, or through hoaxes that spread on Facebook. “A media outlet, despite its defects, has professionals behind it”, Cárdenas remarked. She also stressed the difference between traditional media and social networks, the latter allowing “a more direct relationship with the receiver, allowing a different link and generating more interaction”.

Another issue that came up was the content that some networks choose to forbid and the effect generated, for example, by President Trump’s Twitter account. In contrast, there are few measures to combat hoaxes or hate speech. Many of the attendees agreed on the importance of educating in communication and critical thinking, in seeking out the sources of information and contrasting what comes to us.

Diego Ravenda, professor at TBS, used the example of the Covid deniers to explain that in the end, people believe what they want to believe, “People are afraid to face reality and seek information that confirms their beliefs”. In the same vein, Olivier Benielli, director of the campus, commented that one of the reasons for the rise of fake news is that “in an uncertain and complex world, creating a fictitious reality to hold on to is reassuring”.

Cárdenas also explained that lies have always existed, what has happened is that they have been multiplied by these new technologies. She highlighted the work of the fact-checking platforms that are emerging around the world, some independent and others belonging to the media, which are responsible for disproving hoaxes based on real data.

Algorithms that tailor network content to our tastes and personalities were also discussed. “We think we open our minds, when in fact we are very conditioned, we have the illusion of choice and in the end, we are very directed,” said TBS professor Wafa Khlif.

Maria Luisa ended with a reflection on the positive aspects of social networks and insisted that it is the misuse of social networks that makes them anti-social. She invited the participants to manage the time they spend on them and to free themselves from the slavery of the like.

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