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10 May 2022

In Athens and Thessaloniki, at the moment, there are around 15,000 and 10,000 displaced Ukrainians and 100,000 and 300,000 Russian-speaking immigrants respectively. In such settings, where false information and propaganda can spread like wildfire, it is crucial to foster a culture of solidarity by facilitating the dissemination of reliable information and supporting freedom of expression.

With the support of European Cultural Foundation’s Culture of Solidarity fund, Symbiosis-School of Political Studies in Greece, affiliated to the Council of Europe Network of Schools, embarked on the project ‘Information Disorder: Understanding & countering propaganda during the war infodemic’. The aim has been to support participants —Ukrainian refugees, diaspora communities and welcoming locals— in developing their understanding of the sources of misleading and/or false information and to activate critical thinking and media literacy skills in recognising and responding to these phenomena, including by making their own stories.

Three-day interactive workshops took place in the intercultural metropoles Thessaloniki and Athens.

Information disorder during a war infodemic

Stories of people experiencing war, fleeing from harm, suffering trauma and displacement influence how the war is perceived. Furthermore, political communication is designed and conducted in ways in which political parties develop and defend positions. These discourses need to be studied and understood.

As the world is witnessing the suffering of Ukraine, in many other parts of the world, there are millions of displaced people and persons seeking refuge. The risk of being exposed to information disorder without actively recognising how it might influence attitudes, knowledge, emotions and behaviours is dramatically increased and exacerbated during such periods of crisis. The freedom of information and expression is crucial for the safety and well-being of all those experiencing such precarious situations.

The Thessaloniki workshop

On July 1-3, 2022, the Thessaloniki Workshop involved presenters and facilitators from Greece, Ukraine, Cyprus/UK and Serbia focusing on the ongoing ‘war infodemic’ and on countering multiple threats of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda filter bubbles and fake news promoted through media, following the invasion in Ukraine.

Ukrainian refugees, diaspora communities and locals discussed how to critically consume media and information and how to raise their own voices through alternative media. The workshop enhanced participants’ skills in recognising disinformation; discussed good practices for responsible reporting during an infodemic; and explored story-telling techniques and tools.

The Athens forum

Then, from the 21st to the 23rd of September, the Athens Forum ‘Information disorder during a war infodemic’ was hosted by the European Parliament, Liaison Office Greece.

The right to freedom of expression and information constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society. In conflict situations and wars, the role of the media is critical in providing the public with accurate and timely information. Trustworthy news and images can contribute to the protection of civilians and conflict prevention, bring to the attention of the international community the horrors and reality of conflict and expose violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Journalists’ choices in reporting, their capacity in selecting their stories and in checking facts, all impact upon the unfolding events.

In the forum, experts and journalists from Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, Turkey and Italy, displaced persons, civil society advocates, humanitarian workers, media workers and students discussed how the global take on the war in Ukraine has varied from region to region, particularly given the role that (dis)information has played in influencing these views. Discussions focused on how misinformation plays a part in the war, mechanisms of misinformation, the unfolding of political narratives, challenges in reporting from the field, and so on. It also discussed ways forward, such as news checking and debunking.

More about Symbiosis

In past and ongoing projects, Symbiosis draws on collaborations in education and non-discrimination in the Balkans and Greece to advocate for the political, social and economic participation of migrants and marginalised communities. These include Borderline Offensive and Get the Trolls Out!, alongside over 15 transnational EU projects. Most recently, with the UNHCR Office in Greece, Symbiosis organised Refugee Media Labs— workshops where 30 participants, including refugees and locals, produced stories, podcasts, videos, and photos uploaded on their digital platform.

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