Science - September 14, 2017

‘We should actively spread factual information’

Lieke de Kwant

‘Sounds controversial, doesn’t it?’ Eliakim Hamunyela laughs. He is pleased that the last proposition in his thesis is raising eyebrows. Not long before his graduation ceremony – ‘I’m a bit nervous’– the researcher at the Laboratory for Geo-information Science and remote Sensing is happy to explain.

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Eliakim Hamunyela (Namibia) received his PhD on 6 September for a study on the monitoring of tropical forest changes using satellite data.

Statement: Accelerated circulation of fake news is good for the society.

‘What I mean is that accelerated circulation of fake news can help society to become more self-aware. Which individuals and groups are likely to believe and spread fake information and why do they do this? If you know that, you can begin to target the problem.

I compare it to growing up. As a small child you are not aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, but you get to know yourself as you grow up. It is like that with society too. The circulation of fake news can help us to understand the weaknesses in the community. We can then tackle those weaknesses with accurate information. I believe we should put out factual information much more actively. So far, scientists have been too laid back. Fortunately this is changing now.

I thought of this proposition because in the last few years people have started to complain about the fact that certain groups are susceptible to fake news. Of course I agree that this is a problem. But I believe that when something goes wrong with the children in a family, it is not a problem with the children, but also with the parents. They should ask themselves: what did we do wrong and how can we improve the situation? So that is how I wanted to look at the problem of fake news. What can the leaders in society learn from it?’