In recent years disinformation has caused a lot of damage, both abroad and in Flemish society. The corona crisis has played an important role in this and accelerated the spread of fake news. However, the best way to combat this is by way of balanced, impartial and reliable reporting which is based on facts and is also essential for a well-functioning democracy.
The European Commission recognises the relevance of the fight against disinformation and has therefore allocated two million euros to the Flemish-Dutch EDMO project. Within that project, a multidisciplinary hub will be established by and for scientists, fact-checkers, media companies and other stakeholders.
Increasing media literacy and detecting fake news
The Flemish-Dutch collaboration fits within the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), an international network of hubs in which experts in the field of disinformation join forces and share knowledge. Apart from the Dutch-Flemish hub, seven other EDMO hubs will be launched in Europe in the autumn. In this way, EDMO will increase media literacy with the public, both in the Low Countries and throughout Europe.
Over the next three years, the hub will not only detect growing disinformation campaigns, but also produce and publish fact checks. A research team will also be appointed to analyse various strategies and methods that detect fake news in terms of process, effectiveness and applicability within the European policy and legal framework.
Professor Miguel Poiares Maduro, Chair of the EDMO Board of Directors: "EDMO brings together European fact checkers, media literacy experts and researchers to better map disinformation. The EDMO hubs, such as the Flemish-Dutch project, play a crucial role in this. The hubs analyze disinformation campaigns, organize media literacy activities, and support local media and authorities. They provide a clearer picture of the situation at the national and regional level to promote the fight against disinformation."
The different partners of the EDMO project combine complementary areas of expertise, ranging from research to publication. On the Flemish side, VRT, Knack, KU Leuven and Textgain are all putting their shoulders to the wheel. On the Dutch side, these are the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Leiden University, University of Amsterdam, the Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANP) and the research collective, Bellingcat. Furthermore, there is intensive collaboration with Netwerk Mediawijsheid and Mediawijs, two network organisations in the Netherlands and Flanders that make efforts to promote media literacy among children, (vulnerable) adults and media professionals.
Johan Oomen, project coordinator of EDMO, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision: “Financial support from the EU enables us to bring together a network of fact-checkers in Flanders and the Netherlands and to develop software that can efficiently detect misinformation. The different hubs launched this year in different Member States are exchanging results, so efforts in the Netherlands and Belgium also contribute to the broader agenda to support the news ecosystem in Europe.”
The Dutch language will already be well represented within the European EDMO network. The European Commission announced that it would also subsidise a second hub in the Low Countries, aimed at fact-checking in Dutch, French, German, English and Luxembourgish. Under the name EDMO BELUX, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Brussels School of Governance + SMIT), Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles, Mediawijs, RTL, Agence France Presse (AFP), EU DisinfoLab and Athens Technology Center will be responsible for this. Of course, the Flemish-Dutch EDMO and EDMO BELUX will work closely together.
For more information go to https://edmo.eu/
EDMO in practice at the VRT
As a main partner within EDMO, the VRT will receive a very important additional tool to combat disinformation and fulfil its role as a public broadcaster. Making the Flemish people aware of and making them resilient against disinformation and disproving false news is a top priority for the broadcaster.
Griet De Craen, editor-in-chief VRT NWS: "Half of the Flemish population often question whether the information they receive is true. Half have also believed information that proved to be false. Disinformation is a growing problem and can disrupt society. As a public broadcaster, we want to counter this with qualitative fact checks and explanations.”
Mike Matton, head of international collaborations VRT Innovation: "Disinformation is a problem that needs to be tackled at a societal level, through (inter)national collaborations on both an editorial and technological level. This EDMO project puts these collaborations into practice, with a focus on the Dutch language, which will also benefit technological development."
The DDT cell of VRT NWS
The EDMO project supports the operation of the DDT cell of VRT NWS, a specialised editorial team that focuses on Data, Disinformation and Technology. Experts such as Tim Verheyden, Rien Emmery and Amra Dorjbayar are engaged 24/7 in investigating and debunking fake news in the workplace.
The DDT cell already existed before the outbreak of corona, but the research and production of fact checks gained momentum due to the reporting on COVID-19. For example, VRT NWS published 120 fact checks about the corona crisis in the period from March 2020 to March 2021. These were published via vrtnws.be, via the other VRT brands and via social media.
In order to bring the fact checks to the widest possible audience, three new formats were developed in addition to the articles on vrtnws.be: short videos for Facebook, longer explainer videos for YouTube and Instagram placards for the youth channel nws.nws.nws.
DDT cell journalists also create items about disinformation for non-news programmes of the VRT, for example on the popular radio station Radio 2 and youth radio channel MNM.
Recently, a sustainable collaboration was also set up between the DDT cell and RTBF fact checker Grégoire Ryckmans. VRT NWS and RTBF meet on a weekly basis and exchange research.
Starting in the autumn, all these initiatives will be shared via the EDMO hub and contribute to greater media literacy in the Low Countries and Europe.