What is behind the fake news agenda?

In view of the current deplorable events in Ukraine, I had a few thoughts on the issue of fake news that I would like to share.

I remember vividly how during the Brexit referendum campaign the pro-EU twitter ‘echo chamber’ was gobsmacked on a daily basis by outrageous and obviously untrue claims made by the two pro-Brexit campaigns (Vote Leave and Leave.eu) alike, along with some of the pro-Brexit pundits like Nigel Farage on any media that would let him talk, especially RT which even offered him a job.

We simply couldn’t get our heads around the audacity of those blatant lies, like the one that Turkey was going to join the EU with the implication that all 76* million inhabitants would descend on the UK under EU Freedom of Movement rights. When in reality, it was the UK within the EU that was openly supporting the accession of Turkey and even after Brexit, in my opinion in order to increase the EU internal market by exactly those same 76* million, from which UK businesses would benefit.

What was even more dumbfounding, though, was the massive acceptance of these lies which were being shared on Twitter (among other social media channels) pretty much unchallenged by anyone other than by those who ended up being scorned as ‘remoaners’ while official news outlets, notably the BBC, were conspicuously silent on this subversive ‘alternative news’ phenomenon.

If this first push to sow doubt among people was successful in allowing the pro-Brexit campaign to win the referendum, to all intents and purposes to their own surprise, we then saw the next phase of the process of alienating citizens from legitimate news sources with President Donald Trump’s crusade against any mainstream media outlet critical of him or his policies by accusing them of purveying fake news when he himself was spreading fake news as a matter of course. Fact-checkers put the number of ‘untruths’ (politically correct moniker for the more blunt word ‘lie’) at an astonishing 30,573 over his four years in power, averaging 21 per day. We now had serious journalism being accused of producing fake news while the accusers were spreading fake news themselves prolifically and quite openly.

These days we see the same playbook being used by Russia against Ukraine and the rest of the world, and as I couldn’t help noticing when reading comments on posts about the war on LinkedIn, quite successfully so. To me, reading many of these comments feels like the Brexit referendum campaign all over again.

I am still not sure what the end game is supposed to be because for this strategy of destabilising societies by sowing mistrust to work, it is necessary to have enough people who believe the real fake news over the fake fake (i.e. ‘real’) news. It also, in my opinion arrogantly so, presumes that those believers are not at some stage lured away by yet another player who – for better or worse – manages to use the gullibility that fake news believers have been trained in to their own end.

I will certainly keep an eye on developments in a professional capacity as in a world where anyone can seemingly state anything under the cover of ‘truth’, as a professional who assists multilingual communication I may be forced at some point to choose who I am prepared to lend my voice to. But I will also keep an eye on myself because naturally, I cannot be absolutely sure that I get all my information from trustworthy sources and am not becoming a victim of confirmation bias myself in the attempt to stay close to the truth.

* As claimed on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign poster. The official figure for 2015, which this claim would sensibly be based on, is 78.5 million.

Did you know?

When WFH also extends to multilingual meetings, participants in those events will confirm that the experience is miles from the one at an on-site event.

No fancy coffee machine outside the meeting room, no appetising buffets during the breaks, no networking over dinner, no friendly ladies or gents handing out receivers for those who require interpretation. Everyone needs to be their own equipment provider right now.

Interpreters, too, have had to invest in their own professional gear to be able to shift their work to RSI platforms – although many have even gone above and beyond the exacting entry requirements to optimise their workflow which involves lots more task than before, and to ensure the best possible experience for their listeners, as well.

The problem – and trust me, it is turning into a serious one, leaving many interpreters with hearing damage that was rare under controlled conditions on site and that could end their professional careers – is that platforms do not actually produce the sound they transmit as loss-free as possible, it is everyone who unmutes their microphone. While the listeners of the interpretation are largely getting a sound that is equivalent to that at the international meetings of yore, floor listeners (among them interpreters) in turn are all too often not getting the same level of service, especially in settings without technicians at hand who can assess what simply isn’t good enough and intervene.

Let me focus on one issue today that is quite easily fixed but shockingly frequently ignored: integrated microphones. No professional RSI platform would allow an interpreter to use one. So how come this is exactly the kind of sound quality that listeners, including interpreters, get to hear from the floor?

Everyone knows by now that interpreters are some kind of magicians who can hear, understand, analyse, put into another language, rephrase, and speak at the same time – but only that which they can hear. And as they are not just listening but also doing all these other things, their sound needs to be extra clean. Makes sense, right? In fact, so much so that there is even an ISO standard for the sound quality for distance interpreting.

Built-in microphones don’t deliver ISO20108-compliant sound. They are also usually so well hidden that most speakers who use them unfortunately seem to have no idea how to address them. Most don’t even notice when they hit them, potentially hurting the ears of anyone unfortunate enough to be listening to them (which is ironic, seeing as anyone who takes the floor does so for others to hear them).

Hand on heart, do YOU know where the microphone on your device is? Don’t worry if you don’t, I had to look it up myself – not for me (I already have a professional USB mic, remember?) but to illustrate that finding integrated microphones can be like an Easter egg hunt. I started with one of my own devices, the MacBookPro 15 inch 2018. ๐Ÿ‘‰

How about others? Let’s take a Dell. ๐Ÿ‘‡

I guess you can see now that none of them are truly ideal presentation microphones, no matter the claims of ‘professional sound’ by the manufacturers. None of them directly face the speaker nor have a special recording pattern to exclude noise from elsewhere in the room (which interpreters’ microphones must have), so all of them are at least as good if not better at picking up all kinds of other noises near the microphone – like clicking pens, typing, ringing or vibrating phones, touchpad clicks, and coffee cup clanging on saucers – than a voice half a meter away and around a corner – and trust me, they do! Not to mention one of my pet-peeves: paper copies of presentations placed on top of the mic which manages to rustle horribly AND block the speaker’s voice at the same time. ๐Ÿ†

So when giving professional presentations online, why not simply do it with equipment that does them justice? And even if you don’t believe good sound helps get your message across, it might still be a good idea to get to know the equipment you have and use it properly.

Your listeners will thank you. ๐Ÿ™

CPD has never been this much fun!

There was a time when I thought I’d been there, done that, and had the t-shirt (or event badge) to prove it.

And then COVID19 happened and turned all our professional lives upside down. Suddenly, when asked forcefully by our respective national guidance to work from home, I found myself much more in touch with colleagues than in the preceding two and a bit decades. I also realised that I needed to learn. Then that I had useful information to share, too.

One of the first ‘resources’ for interpreting insight and wisdom I had begun to follow even somewhat before is Techforword.com. Now I am regularly checking what they have to offer.

Right now they are putting on their Innovation in Interpreting event that I would recommend should be visited by online event hosts (it’s free) just to see how to put on a sleek virtual show! Who else if not the tech-savviest interpreters around?

It is also full of useful information for interpreters wanting to know more about how to use technology in their permanent quest to improve their work.

And it is, like other such events, a great way for us interpreters to network, to break out of our local or national bubbles and become a truly global profession, learning and developing our skills, our work environments, and the ways we can provide our services to more and more clients, together.

Bentley Infrastructure Project Awards 2013

I had the pleasure of getting an assignment at this highly interesting event.

It was very well organised, with a speakers’ room with refreshments that I was asked to show up in for a briefing on the day before. Except it didn’t take place due to adverse weather having put paid to the travel plans of the German finalistย (number 3 on the list) I was assigned to. So one has to improvise, which I did by grabbing last year’s finalists’ catalogue on the way out to get a feel for the kind of submissions.

The usual organisational stress of such large events made sure that I received the slide deck for the presentation at 1:50am on the day, by which time I was fast asleep, compulsory for a job that requires maximum concentration because every word matters.

On the day I was needed for the Q&A session after the presentation, and this is where we came across ‘root mean square error‘ and ‘Ausgleichungsrechnung’, or ‘curve-fitting‘, as it is known in English, at which point I would love to talk about how different language communities name things… and about curve-balls.