• 02 July 2020


    Posteado en : Interview

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    “Police and judicial cooperation must fight disinformation”

    Chief Inspector Diego Alejandro Palomino speaks about fake news, what it is, the problems it causes and how it has impacted on the current Covid-19 health crisis.

    FIIAPP, through some of the projects it manages, works hand-in-hand with state security forces and agencies to prevent and fight against all forms of cross-boarder organised crime. One of the new forms of crime is currently perpetrated via the latest technology. This specialist from the National Police Technological Research Unit (ITU) throws some more light on this development.

    What is fake news?

    Fake news can be defined as false information that appears to be true, but which intends to misinform for political, propaganda and/or economic-financial purposes.

    News that falls into the category of fake news seeks to influence or manipulate the ideas of the recipients, causing confusion or deception, and taking advantage of circumstances to create fear, uncertainty and precariousness, thus making people more easily influenced.

    The essential elements of this type of news combine intent and falsehood.

    What are the main problems it causes?

    The main problem that fake news causes is disinformation. Having knowledge of certain information usually generates unease in the recipients of the same, which in turn, can influence decision-making.

    The state of alert and the problems related to the pandemic are giving rise to a high demand for goods, restrictions on mobility, anxiety and fear in people, as well as limitations in supply chains.

    Any news that is generated about each or all of these activities or circumstances is being taken to the extreme; even more so when a lot of it is contradictory, thus generating greater uncertainty. This, in turn, causes people to take even fewer precautions when analysing the situation they are in and to take much more risky measures than usual.

    Another problem to take into account is that quite often the information is not verified and is forwarded or disseminated without any assurance as to its truth, which contributes to its rapid expansion, thereby generating the “illusory truth effect”. In fact, very few people spread false news when they are aware that it is indeed false.

    Why is it so harmful?

    Fake news tends to reach many more people than true information, and may alter the criteria used to distinguish one from the other. It normally reflects an exaggerated sensationalism, which has a direct impact on people’s opinion. This type of information, due to its nature, content and objective, prevents the creation of an objective and rational judgment, thereby distorting reality and discrediting contrary information, which conditions decision-making.

    Taken to the extreme, this type of information can create a domino effect, leading to substantial changes in various social, political, labour and economic matters.

    In certain circumstances, fake news may even contribute to polarising society and can come to be considered as a direct attack on the quality of democracy, given its potentially overwhelming influence on public opinion.

    How is it detected?

    At the National Police level, we use the two fundamental tools currently available to us, due to the operational restrictions caused by the state of alarm and the functions directly entrusted to us by the instructions received. They basically consist of cyber patrolling, that is to say, monitoring social networks and tracking internet activities, and checking the information received through citizen participation.

    All the information received is checked, verified and confirmed, the corresponding information notes are then issued on each event and reports on the facts and the actions taken.

    Moreover, through the various police services and the secretary of state for security, reports are being issued on the control of false news, such as those drafted by the Intelligence Centre for Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (CITCO), the coordination and analysis body in which the Spanish security forces and agencies participate.

    Has there been an increase in disinformation during the health crisis?

    Generally speaking, disinformation has increased exponentially. Firstly, the dearth of true and verifiable information available about the disease itself has generated a large amount of erroneous information regarding the means of contagion, exposure, methods to avoid contagion, ways in which it may be cured, all of which generated different cases of fraud based on miraculous remedies, and even related to the Covid-19 vaccine.

    Secondly, a series of social and economic needs have been generated around the disease that have led to the offer of aid by governments to alleviate them, which in turn has led to false information about the ways in which such aid can be obtained and the requirements to obtain it. Criminals have taken advantage of such circumstances to “hook” people into giving them personal data, which has caused some to become the victims of fraudulent financial transfers.

    What role does cooperation play in tackling this problem?

    Cooperation has a fundamental role in the fight against any criminal activity or any other that prioritises the interests of a few to generate sweeping changes, either in society or in people’s way of life.

    In a globalised world where there is an absence of barriers and borders in the exchange of information and rapid access to it, countries must act in unison to combat the shared danger posed by the spread of false information that becomes generalised and reliable merely by the fact of being repeated.

    Police and judicial cooperation must fight disinformation, just as it fights against organised crime, exchanging experiences and good practices and promoting the publicity of public actions in the fight against practices that seek to subvert established political orders, given that disinformation directly jeopardises democracy and people’s freedom.