Prelog for the DFC: A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can put on its shoes

There is no simple decision in the fight against fake news and the best way to fight this phenomenon is through education and strengthening of media literacy, said Lordan Prelog, a founder of the Museum of Fake News from Croatia, in an interview for the DFC magazine.

The Museum was opened in the middle of October and functions as an online platform for publishing different content, from fake news and disinformation circling around to the media literacy development tools.

Prelog explains that the Museum, as a unique project in the Balkans, can contribute to the fight against the global phenomenon of fake news to a smaller extent, but it is crucial to develop critical thinking among the youth.

He thinks that a lack of confidence in the scientists and journalists has to do with the media literacy level of the citizens and he added that official estimations show that the material damage in the world due to direct and indirect consequences of disinformation for 2019 amounts to 78 billion dollars!

DFC: In the middle of October, you founded the Museum of Fake News – an online platform with the tools to develop media literacy and fight against disinformation. Why did you decide to initiate such a project? Did any particular event motivate you to do so?

Lordan PRELOG: We would like to raise awareness among the citizens to the prevalence of fake news and teach them how to recognize it in media and on the internet, particularly on social media where they are widespread. The first phase of the project, founding the Museum of Fake News on the internet, is just a small contribution to the global fight against disinformation and, in fact, it serves as one of the additional mechanisms for the fight against disinformation.

By the way, the project is a result of the work of the Institute for new media and electronic democracy, which, among other things, has been organizing the international conference Information technology and journalism in Dubrovnik for 25 years. We have great cooperation with the local and foreign experts and we are the only SOMA member in Croatia (Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis), one of the leading networks consisting of many institutions that are engaged in fake news debunking.


DFC: What are the further plans for the development of the Museum?

Lordan PRELOG: At the beginning of the story, the organization of the Museum’s content was based on four pillars, which approach the creation, development, importance, and consequences of this phenomenon through different approaches. The first pillar, THE PAST, is imagined as a place where the most famous fake news from the last hundred (or more) years would be exposed. We would process the stories on the most prominent news among the public as objectively as we can.

The chosen latest fake news from the local media and testimonies of the recognized journalists and scientists constitute the core of the museum, the second pillar – THE PRESENT. After some time, the news, together with the most interesting comments and part of a debate, is stored in the archive and available for search.

The third pillar, THE FUTURE, is dedicated to media literacy education. The introductory texts speak of the importance of the introduction and development of education about this field. Short training courses will also be offered in the form of quizzes, games, labyrinths, which symbolically award those who (rapidly and successfully) accomplish particular tasks.

The goal of the fourth pillar – THE WHY is to explain the disinformation phenomenon, therefore it contains a collection of more than 300 most prominent scientific and expert texts on that phenomenon. It is useful for science (researchers), education (teachers), journalists, politicians, etc.

We are planning to further develop and popularize the tools and techniques for the fight against fake news (pieces of training, courses, games, interactive quizzes), and all of that in order to raise the level of media literacy and critical thinking of our citizens.


DFC: Neither Montenegro nor Croatia have an excellent score on the Media Literacy Index scale. What are the reasons for this, according to you, and how could we change that situation?

Lordan PRELOG:  Media literacy in Croatia, as well as in the majority of the EU countries, is not developed enough and it is the capability for critical thinking that is considered the key factor in the process of determining the truthfulness of the information. According to the Media Literacy Index (the 2019 Media Literacy Index, Open Institute Sofia), Croatia is the 25th out of 35 European states. Our position is even worse than the position of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Malta, or Cyprus.

Lack of trust in the scientists and journalists is connected with media literacy since it turned out that the countries with a higher level of distrust had lower media literacy score.

There is no media literacy in the school curriculum in Croatia, while in Finland, media literacy is taught since kindergarten. Therefore, we have to motivate younger generations to learn how to think critically when evaluating particular content, so that they could discern a truth from a lie. On the other hand, journalists should report truthfully and with the highest professional standards.

DFC: All pieces of research demonstrate that disinformation and fake news are usually published on the internet (social media, news portals). These phenomena have particularly escalated during the pandemic. How to fight the negative effects, which have already had enormous consequences?

Lordan PRELOG: I can only repeat what the experts have been repeating for years – there is no universal solution, no so-called silver bullet concept. According to the recent report of the University of Baltimore, material damage for 2019 caused by direct and indirect consequences of disinformation in the world was estimated at 78 billion dollars!

There is a saying that goes something like: A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can put on its shoes. As a rule, disinformation generates much greater reach than the regular news. False press releases, disinformation, and fake news on social media represent a growing threat due to the speed of spreading and reach and they have a significant influence on the brand’s strength, reduce productivity, and/or cause financial damage to individuals, companies, and institutions.

According to the recent report of the University of Baltimore, material damage in 2019 in the world, caused by direct and indirect consequences of disinformation, was estimated at 78 billion dollars!

There are particular individuals and organized groups engaged in the production of fake content only to gain profit from the clicks. A well-known example is the case of the North Macedonian town of Veles where young people skilled in technology and social media opened web pages where they posted disinformation on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent back then.


DFC: During the parliamentary election, Montenegro has been exposed to an unprecedented disinformation campaign and fake news was almost always published by the same media. What is the best model to fight these organized activities – sanctions based on the laws, the joint action of fact-checkers, or something else?

Lordan PRELOG: It is necessary to simultaneously work on a couple of fronts; education is just a part of the story. For example, it is great news that artificial intelligence is more and more used in the fight against online disinformation since it is becoming particularly efficient in recognition of suspicious network content. The fact-checkers are contributing a lot to the fight, but to check and assess the truthfulness of some piece of news does not represent a solution to the problem.

Personally, I am not a supporter of some explicit legal regulation since in that case, a country signs some legal framework that usually leads to (auto)censoring. However, the legal regulation must exist, especially in case of the systematic launching of disinformation by the same actors who obviously do it with purpose and by established agenda. If you drain someone’s bank account, they will think twice whether they should publish an unverified or made-up piece of information.

In the fight against fake news, there is no simple solution. It is necessary to work on education and the development of critical thinking among citizens. Trust in media and state institutions can be regained by performing professional and ethical journalism and through the development of media literacy of all members of society, starting from the youngest.

DFC: You have a longtime journalist experience. In practice, has it ever occurred to you to publish disinformation or fake news? To what extent has your work in journalism been the impetus to establish this Museum?

Lordan PRELOG: I have been working in Jutarnji list from 2001 to 2008 and those were different times. Not that my job at the time was an impetus, but I felt on my skin the importance of ethical behavior in journalism as well as the basic professional postulates. As a young journalist, I would sometimes add on the statement so that a text would become more interesting and juicy. Those were never crucial information but a couple of times I have inserted my own words or observations instead of those that my interlocutors used. I realized very soon that it is considered bad practice. I think that the majority of the colleagues launched a piece of disinformation unintentionally, due to speed or out of error. But in the majority of such situations, it was unintentional. Today we see that this is not the case, disinformation is being launched in the media in order to harm someone or cause material damage.