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Constructive communication in the fake news era

An EU-backed project explains how applying the principles of constructive journalism can help us communicate evidence-based knowledge more effectively.

Digital Economy icon Digital Economy
Society icon Society

What can science communication learn from constructive journalism in a world bombarded with fake news? Sabrina Heuwinkel and Ramona Hägele from the German Institute of Development and Sustainability lay down some guidelines in the 27 March 2024 edition of ‘The Current Column’, a publication tackling key issues and trends in international development policy. The article was published as part of the EU-funded PRODIGEES project that is studying the effects of digitalisation on the environment, economy, governance and society. PRODIGEES brings together partners from eight countries across the globe – Austria, Brazil, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and South Africa – to explore digitalisation’s social, governmental, economic and climatic impacts from local, regional, national and global perspectives. Emphasising the perils faced by a digitalised society undergoing numerous crises at once, Heuwinkel and Hägele write: “Fake news spreads across the globe in seconds and can cost lives. Disinformation weakens democracy and social cohesion. Against this backdrop, evidence-based knowledge urgently needs to be communicated more effectively.” With the important role that science communication has to play in this context, constructive journalism can provide considerable impetus. But what precisely is constructive journalism? According to the authors, it encompasses “a pronounced focus on solutions; multiple perspectives …; and a constructive dialogue,” not only focusing on describing a problem but also looking at what happens next.

Pitting science against fake news

The authors mention including constructive approaches from the start when designing science communication. They also highlight the importance of using more resources, such as podcasts, infographics, animations and explainer videos. “This is the only way to ensure that evidence-based scientific content stands a chance in the ruthless competition for attention on social media platforms,” they write. “Al-based tools will provide important support here. Al applications can quickly and easily transform long texts into ‘snack content’ suitable for social media, translate content into many different languages, and convert and make texts available as audio content.” Based as it is on evidence-based research results, science communication can serve as a starting point for constructive debate around the issues society is facing. Heuwinkel and Hägele conclude: “Science communication that sets out to follow the example of constructive journalism and, in times of polycrisis, also communicates with a focus on target groups on the large platforms makes a necessary contribution to promoting social cohesion, safeguarding democracy and achieving the 2030 Agenda.” PRODIGEES has also produced a video series of ‘Synergetic stories on sustainability and digitalisation’ in the Amazon region based on the principles of constructive journalism. The videos tackle issues such as sustainable and digital food industry, education and gender equality through sports, sustainable cocoa production, organic açai farming and ecotourism. PRODIGEES (Promoting Research on Digitalisation in Emerging Powers and Europe towards Sustainable Development) ends in June 2025. For more information, please see: PRODIGEES project web page


PRODIGEES, science communication, constructive journalism, sustainability, digitalisation, fake news, social media

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