by Massimiliano Sfregola

 

 

Wikipedia defines fake news: yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. [1] [2]

In short, a fake news is a piece of information artfully crafted and based on untrue facts aimed at altering the perception of reality in readers. In addition to the scholastic definitions, however, it is not easy to identify a “fake news”: certainly, when the facts have no evidence or when a conspiracy theory becomes the basis behind a reasoning, then the spotting a fake news is not difficult.

How to evaluate a journalistic report with manipulative purpose? It is not an easy task for journalists, let alone for those who do not come from the media industry.

Let’s take the case of our report on 30% regeling: we have received several criticisms, some users have written to us in private with insults, threats and someone has informed that our video was reported for “fake news”.

Someone else has even accused us of having produced a “populist fake news”: what is fake news and what is populist in our video?

The users allegations says in italian: they want visibility and produce fake news to gain it

Let’s analyze the structure: what did we want to communicate? First of all, we were interested in understanding: so in the opening we have included the text “The government will reduce from 8 to 5 years the 30%” followed by “but a group of expats is not very happy about it.”

What’s fake? According to the comments we would have omitted the detail that the group of expat protests against the retroactivity and not against the political choices of the Dutch government. But is it really like that?

According to the comment below, one of the many, collected from our Fb profile page, expats  have different motivations that move their protest.

If the manifesto signed by an organized group of expats only asks to introduce the change for the new ones, leaving the others alone, this group does not include all the opinions. If we were talking on the specific about that group, certainly, the news would have missed some part  but surely would have not been a fake news. Furthermore we have mentioned the matter of retroactivity.

Just watch the video until the end. It should have been at the beginning? Who says so? Is it there a blueprint to follow? Surely not. Journalism deontology wants the news to be true and to be balanced and in our case, we believe they were both.

We, of course, look at the issue on a larger scale of a committee that has self-proclaimed the union of all 30% expats: some expats are not happy with the changes and some others are not happy with the political matter.

Why “only one voice”?

We have chosen a narrative code that responds to our editorial line: we have never been a portal for expats but a magazine that tries to look at issues on a broader perspective and above all tries to do it also looking at the Dutch point of view.

Since the narrative on 30% in English has been monopolized by expat protests we thought it would have add an extra to the public debate to hear why the majority of parliament is in favor of reducing the regeling and we chose to ask one of the parties the reason.

Our story, therefore, is the Netherlands that does not want 30% not the expat who want it (and do not want to lose it retroactively). In this sense, the expert offered us the context and we addressed the questions raised by the Member to the Parliament without adding any extra reporting.

Was it possible to do otherwise? Surely yes. But as long as we respect a balance in positions, and this balance we do not believe is lacking, no one is forcedto offer “equal share of time” to the parties: it is our story, it is our editorial line and journalism works this way.

Why do (some) expats have it with us then?

We have been accused of operating “censorship”, our video has been reported as “fake news” and one of the leaders of the group offered us a “reparatory” interview in exchange for the removal of the video. In my career as a journalist it happened only in the musical field of “negotiating content”; in journalism tout court, on the contrary, it is not something that should happen. If a reader and subscriber learn that the content was altered by one side to please the desire for visibility they would be right to be upset.

Of course, we decided to remove all those messages that, with insults and false accusations, could potentially be a crime. Often some users do not have full control over the way they use internet and many love the “freedom of insult” offered writing behind a screen.

Many have tried to “sabotage” our page with negative feedback (what a coincidence: 3 years of positive feedbacks and then all negative feedbacks in one go!), others accusing us of “clickabait” ( we have no advertising so whether you watch our videos or share our stories or not is totally irrelevant to us)

These are only a few isolated cases that show, however, the passive aggressive violence of nowadays: the childish reaction to an adverse opinion and the poor understanding of the way media work are present day debate.

Main problem is always the same: Facebook tends to polarize the opinions and that feeling of closeness without nuances, offered by the groups, produces a virtual “tribal dynamic” amplified by the feeling of -quasi- unaccountability.

Some who call for freedom of expression supports only self-referential positions: 30% are, in our opinion, united by the terror of losing an economic privilege. And as they have the right to cry out to “social envy” (it is a legitimate opinion) we have the right to tell a story with the perspective we believe is better according to our editorial policy.

Free press works like this. It is no coincidence that the allegations of “fake news” were not supported by “evidence”: the result? Facebook has not touched our video and aside from threats and sabotage, the violent reaction of some angry did nothing but convinced us that our position has some ground.

The anger and frustration of many, often, is projected to the media: free journalists are often the target of hate campaigns just because their work doesn’t please this opinion or that group.

We knew that our perspective would have attracted criticism and we were also prepared for “virtual bullying”; from our side, we will not be intimidated by public and private hate messages and all we will continue to publish what we think is right. And for those who feel like discussing with us in person, we are in the newsroom twice a week. Please find the address on our page. You are all welcome, supporters and haters.