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ERC wants to hold platforms accountable for misinformation and harmful effects on social media


Lisbon, 22 Apr 2023 (Lusa) – The member of the ERC Regulatory Board João Pedro Figueiredo defended today that social networks and service providers should be held responsible for misinformation and the effects of the circulation of false information on their platforms.

“In the elaboration of the laws of the different sectors (…) specific and clear realities could be foreseen for all the actors in this sector, and first of all in the service providers”, he said in his opening speech at the sixth edition of the Literacia, Media Congress and Citizenship, which runs until today in Lisbon.

“When we are talking about media literacy, we are not just talking about media, we are talking about information, and much of what goes on the internet and much of the misinformation and harmful effects associated with the circulation of information does not come from the media., they don’t come from the media, they come from social networks”, added the member of the Regulatory Entity for Social Communication.

João Pedro Figueiredo underlined that social networks “are not currently regulated by regulators”, but that this should happen.

“It is necessary to make service providers and platforms accountable,” he insisted.

However, he underlined that this will also require resources – human and financial – for its operation, difficulties that the regulator has faced in recent years.

The ERC member was speaking during the second of two days of the sixth edition of the Literacy, Media and Citizenship Congress, which takes place at the Escola Superior de Comunicação Social of the Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon, in Benfica, and whose motto was chosen by GILM – Grupo Informal sobre a Literacia for the Media is “Digital Transition and Public Policy”.

In the panel ‘Media Literacy: Challenges for Public Policies’, moderated by Pedro Braumann, there were also the Minister of Education, João Costa, the commissioner of the National Reading Plan, Regina Duarte, and the information director of Lusa, Luísa Meireles .

During the nearly two hours of debate, literacy and the new National Plan for Media Literacy, which the Minister of Culture, Pedro Adão e Silva said on Friday, will be created by the end of the first semester, were elements- key.

Regina Duarte pointed out that media literacy – and all other forms – could receive contributions from the National Reading Plan, since they are inseparable from reading skills.

Thus, he referred to the results of the PISA tests – International Student Assessment Program, benchmarking tests and national exams, which show that students in Portugal “have a lot of difficulty with more complex reading skills”.

“Our students are able to understand explicit information in the text, information that is easily located, which is on the surface of the text”, but “when it comes to making inferences, even direct ones, they are no longer able to and fail in reading skills that have to do with information evaluation, with comparison, with interpretation”, pointed out the PNL commissioner.

“If our students leave school without being able to assess information, without being able to interpret, without being able to analyse information, they won’t necessarily have media literacy skills, but they won’t have others either”, warned Regina Duarte.

The Minister of Education noted that “difficulties in extensive reading were detected and that students gave up at the first reading difficulty”.

“We transpose this to the relationship with the media and what does that mean? It means a great vulnerability to manipulation, because we cannot distinguish what is factual from what is opinionated”, he added, referring to the practice of “reading only the title and not reading extensively”.

João Costa added that the curriculum reform that began in 2016 and 2017 included “dimensions such as critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, autonomy and the responsibility associated with this autonomy” as essential skills to be developed throughout of schooling.

In this sense, he referred that media literacy is something that can be achieved with work developed in all curricular areas and went back to the covid-19 pandemic.

“If we think about the area of ​​science and what the rain of madness on social networks was at the time of the pandemic, it is enough to have knowledge of science to realize that a virus cannot be killed with bleach, that masks do not go beyond I don’t know what from 5G and things of that nature, just to name the craziest examples”, he said, adding that this involves scientific knowledge and the development of skills in the disciplines of Portuguese, history and philosophy.

The panel members considered that the lack of media literacy could be a contributing factor to a proliferation of misinformation, with Luísa Meireles adding another variable: the lack of local media.

“According to the Media Trust Lab, which is a project of the University of Beira Interior, 53.9%, that is, 54% of the 308 Portuguese municipalities are in a situation of total news desert. This means that they do not have any media of their own that produces news or [are] in a fragile situation”, he said.

“If we think about it, this is our reality, and it is a reality conducive to misinformation”, pointed out Lusa’s director of information.



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Construction of Thermal Tunnel to study behaviour of large fires


Porto, Apr 23, 2023 (Lusa) – The specialist who studied the fires of 2017, Domingos Xavier Viegas, warned today that, despite the occurrence of large fires being more “probable” in the Centre and North regions of Portugal, these phenomena can happen “everywhere”.

“Our experience shows that they can occur practically everywhere. In the regions of Central and Northern Portugal, where the topography is more complex and the vegetation is more prone to fires, it is more likely, but we have already seen large fires in regions where, at the outset, it was not expected”, warned the researcher from the Coimbra University.

Recognizing that the country has learned some lessons from the fires of 2017, in which 114 people died, the specialist who was part of the Independent Technical Observatory and coordinated the studies requested by the Government on those fires considers, however, that it has not been “enough”, guessing “a long way to go”.

“From a scientific point of view, studying them and understanding them is better. Then, of course, preparing the operational community to face it – above all to do it safely – and, finally, to prevent and sensitize the population to, in its occurrence, avoid panic situations and last-minute escape attempts, as happened in Pedrógão Grande that caused loss of life”, he said

Four months later, on October 15, already after the so-called critical fire season, the worst day of the year in terms of the number of fires was recorded, with more than 500, with the flames reaching 27 municipalities in the Centre region in particular and causing 51 deaths. . In this case, more than a third of the fatal victims died at home, with many of them having been caught by fire while they were sleeping.

In an effort to better understand phenomena such as what happened in Pedrógão Grande, the Centre for Studies on Forest Fires (CEIF) at the University of Coimbra (UC) is building a thermal tunnel, whose assembly, said its coordinator, Xavier Viegas, is in advanced stage.

“We hope to run tests later this month. We are very hopeful that it will be equipment that will allow the study of processes [namely large fires] that are still poorly understood by the scientific community and also by the operational community exactly about the role of the vertical stability of the atmosphere in the propagation of fire”, he explained.

It is the conviction of the UC researcher that the importance given to the role played by the atmosphere is “exaggerated”, insofar as – mainly in large fires – there is sometimes the “development of a very strong convection – produced by the fire – and that, eventually, if there is an unstable atmosphere, it can potentiate it”.

With this equipment, the forest fire specialist hopes not only to understand fundamental aspects of fire behaviour, but also to contribute to the training of firefighters and civil protection agents to fight major fires, such as the one that broke out last year in Parque Natural from Serra da Estrela and spread between the 5th and the 23rd of August.

Classified as the 6th largest to occur in Portugal, since there are records, the fire reached 22 parishes, six municipalities, having consumed a total of 22 hectares in the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela.

In that fire, which “fortunately” did not have the proportions observed in Pedrógão, as in others that occurred last year, explains Xavier Viegas, it was possible to identify “situations of fronts meeting that produced a very large acceleration”, as is an example, from the fire in July 2022, in Murça, where a man and a woman, aged around 70, died when they tried to flee the fire by car.

“The accident was preceded by a meeting of two fire fronts which led to the fire spreading very quickly. In Serra da Estrela the same thing”, he indicated, stressing that “interaction with the atmosphere does not always play a fundamental role”, as happened in Pedrógão, where the thunderstorm influenced the behaviour of the fire.



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More than 7 thousand hectares have burned in Portugal since the beginning of the year


In the first 11 days of April, 43 hectares more burned than in the entire same month in 2022. The most frequent causes of fires in 2023 so far are burns.

Portugal has already recorded more than 7,000 hectares (ha) of burned area due to forest fires in 2023, according to provisional data from the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF) released this Thursday.

ICNF data are recorded from January 1 to last Tuesday and indicate that, out of a total of 1,971 rural fires, 7,366 ha of burned area resulted, including settlements (1,826 ha), bushes (5,454 ha) and agriculture (86 ha).

Comparing this year’s figures with those of the last 10 years, the ICNF points out that more than 12% of rural fires and more than 48% of burned area were recorded in relation to the annual average for the period.

“The year 2023 presents, until April 11, the 5th highest value in number of fires and the 5th highest value of burned area since 2013”, reads in the report.

In just 11 days in April, 43 ha more burned than in the entire same month last year.

In April of this year, until last Tuesday, 1,208 ha were burned, while in the same month – in 30 days – for the last year, 1,165 ha of burned area were registered.

Removing April from the equation, in the first three months of the year, 6,158 ha of burned areas were counted, 1,986 ha less than those verified in 2022 in the same period.

The ICNF explains that 73% of all rural fires that have occurred so far in 2023 are small, with a burned area of ​​less than 1 ha.

So far, February is the month with the highest number of rural fires, with a total of 1,025 fires, corresponding to 52% of the total number recorded in the year.

February is also the month with the largest burned area, with a total of 5,200 ha burned, which is equivalent to 71% of the total burned area in 2023.

Regarding the larger fires, the body that ensures the implementation of policies for the conservation of nature and forests found 13 fires with a burned area of ​​between 100 and 1,000 ha.

“Until April 11, 2023, there were 12 fires falling under this category, which resulted in 1,898 hectares of burned area, about 26% of the total burned area”, he highlights.

Of the total of 1,971 rural fires that occurred this year, 1,264 were investigated and have the cause investigation process completed – 64% of the total number of fires responsible for 79% of the total burned area.

According to the ICNF, the most frequent causes of fires in 2023 are burning for pasture management for cattle (30%) and burning of forest or agricultural remnants (28%).

“Together, the various types of fires and burns represent 79% of the total causes determined. Rekindles represent 3% of the total number of causes investigated”, he underlines.

Analysing by district, the ICNF highlighted Porto (319), Braga (314) and Viana do Castelo as the ones with the highest number of fires, indicating that “they are mostly small in size”, not exceeding one hectare of burned area.

In relation to the district of Porto, the percentage of fires with less than one hectare of burned area is 87%.

With regard to the burned area, the most affected district is Braga with 2,258 ha, about 31% of the total burned area, followed by Vila Real with 1,702 hectares (23% of the total) and Viana do Castelo with 1,361 hectares (18% of the total).

Examining the meteorological severity, the ICNF reached a total value of “weighted burned area” this year of 4,618 ha, translating the “total burned area that would be obtained if all fires followed the historical average ‘behaviour’ in view of the meteorological severity of the day /place where they occurred”.

The real burned area value of 7,366 ha corresponds to 160% of the “weighted burned area”, which means that the burned area this year is “considerably higher than the ‘expected’ burned area taking into account the meteorological severity verified”.