. Podcast on disinformation and fake news

Reflections is a 3-part podcast series, which focuses on threats of disinformation to critical knowledge, academic community and democratic process. The podcast introduces concepts and phenomena surrounding fake news, particularly important for students in order to be equipped to identify and navigate online disinformation. The project was supported by the Maynooth University Spark Initiative. The banner of the 2020/21 Initiative was ‘Change one thing and do it well’ and in this podcast we hope to help change your attitude towards bias and fake news within your day to day life, and within academic research so it is less daunting and more manageable.

In Episode 1 of Reflections, Dr Aneta Stepien from Maynooth University Critical Skills Department chats with Gerard Maguire from the Department of Law about fake news, the concepts surrounding it and its rise to popularity in contemporary media and life, specifically how it relates back to the effects on the democratic process.

Image: Vodafone, 2021

In Episode 2 of Reflections, Aneta Stepien and Gerard Maguire chat all things echo chambers, conspiracy theories and confirmation bias, in a discussion around how fake news effects day to day life, from politics to social media to academia and scientific community

Image: NewsChain, 2021

In Episode 3 of Reflections, Aneta Stepien is joined by Jack Madden and Rachel Seaman, who are both second year students at Maynooth University, to discuss how fake news and disinformation are threatening to the academic community and therefore how it is important for students to understand these phenomena and be equipped with the knowledge and skill to navigate them.

Image: Educause, credit Edmon de Haro © 2020

Developing Research Attitudes

Supporting your research process and combating fake news

Image: ©klublu – Adobe

Together with students collaborating on this project, we have created a list of research and study attitudes that should help you to strengthen your research skills and avoid falling victim to disinformation:

  • Be mindful of your search engines: try to use university library or Google Scholar (trusted academic website);
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and refine your own research process;
  • Be wary of echo chambers and confirmation bias;
  • Use reason and logic, not emotions, to evaluate the content of your sources;
  • Be wary while researching the topics likely to attract conspiracy theories;
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce different perspectives on one problem in your research (our world is complex!);
  • Familiarise yourself with the different tiers of sources and different value of them;
  • Be sure to do multiple drafts and edit your work to include new evidence so it can improve;
  • Be weary of algorithm-driven social media platforms while doing your research and ever-evolving technology;
  • Whether you use a quote, statistical data or an image, always give credit to your sources through references;
  • Don’t be afraid to look for help and ask for opinion those with more research experience;

For more tips on how to fight lies, tricks and chaos online check here.

When reading press articles…

Well-established and reliable news outlets operate under the umbrella of larger press institutions. In Ireland, it is the Office of the Press Ombudsman and Press Council of Ireland, which set journalistic standard, referred to as Code of Practice. The Code helps to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards of the published news. Exploring the Code of Practice and its major Principles will give you more clues about what to consider when surveying information online and evaluating sources.

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Examples of the institutional fight against disinformation

Many organisations, research centres and private enterprises, nationally and globally, track the spread of fake narratives across social media and the web. On their websites, you can find reports of the recent trends of news stories from politics to health to celebrities. These institutions use technology and analytics to predict the stories that are likely to become fake news while experts analyse how these can result in people engaging in dangerous real-world behaviours.

An example of the Irish-based company is NewsWhip, with NewsWhip Research Center that includes a multidisciplinary team of academics, data scientists, researchers and outside partners, who provide insightful interpretation of the vast social data that surrounds us, demystifying the spread of news and information on social media.

In 2019, the UK Government Communication Service, published RESIST Counter-disinformation Toolkit, 72-pages document addressed to “public sector communications professionals, as well as policy officers, senior managers and special advisers” to enable them develop a response when disinformation affects “[their] organisation’s ability to do its job, the people who depend on your services, or represents a threat to the general public”. Pages 47-50 contain a glossary related to disinformation techniques, including fake news, echo chambers, filter bubble and deep fake discussed in the podcast Reflections.

Professional news media use fact checking tool to assess claims made across various media and whether you can trust them. #FACTCHECK the latest claims at

(…) more danger comes not from easily disproved claims that provoke complete disbelief but the ones that could have a grain of truth (Ciara O’Brian, The Irish Times, March 11, 2021).

European Parliament, Amnesty International and journalists use external companies, like Truly Media, developed in very close collaboration with journalists and human rights investigators, to help them verify digital content for accuracy. Check the European Commission’s strategy for “tackling the spread of online disinformation and misinformation to ensure the protection of European values and democratic systems” here.

Take Action and Get Involved

Continuous education is the strongest weapon against disinformation!

A number of NGOs, charities and grass root initiatives operate on volunteer-basis allowing you to get involved in countering disinformation. Many groups and organisations ask the public to share or report suspicious stories and news. In July 2020, UN enlisted 10,000 digital volunteers to fight COVID-19 disinformation.

COVID19 Disinformation

UNICEF – “Join the fight against misinformation”

Migration Disinformation

NUI Galway – Ireland to lead global initiative to tackle ‘fake news’ on migration”

Climate Disinformation

Social media – “Climate change: Simple guidelines can slow the spread of fake news on Facebook” based on Lauren Lutze’s study on the importance of critical thinking

Podcast production. Image source: Aneta Stepien

This podcast project was created by Aneta Stepien, in collaboration with Gerard Maguire, Rachel Seaman and Jack Madden. Special thanks to Bret Zawilski and Nicola Kavanagh for their advice and tips. If you have any questions about this project email: