Tuesday, 14 December 2021

People Trust Facebook More than Institutions, Media and Science

ZAGREB, 13 Dec 2021 - Fake news is an increasing problem and challenge for society and democracy and people are more likely to believe information read on Facebook than those in positions of authority such as institutions, science, and the media, a zoom conference organized by the Gong NGO heard on Monday.

Techniques used to disseminate misinformation are being advanced by the day and that is why it is necessary to improve the quality of the media, media literacy and to build democratic political culture founded on well-argumented criticism. However, it is also essential to regulate digital platforms and responsible authorities, heard the conference on the dissemination of fake news during the COVID-19 pandemic".

Trust in social media is growing, trust in health staff declining

Croatian citizens don't trust the government, nor judiciary, nor media and avoid listening to the news. More and more trust is placed in social media, while healthcare staff is less and less trusted, said Professor Marijana Grbeša-Zenzerović of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb.

As much as half of the Croatian population believes that the virus emerged in a government laboratory whereas in Denmark only 6% believe in that. Grbeša-Zenzerović also underscored that citizens trust EU institutions more than national ones.

6 in 10 Croats say they come across misinformation at least once a week

Milica Vučković, a lecturer from the faculty, said that 62% of Croatian citizens assess that they come across misinformation at least once a week. They often mention the "effect of a third person," people are aware of misinformation and consider that they will not be duped by fake news or manipulative claims.

We are seeing more sophisticated models of disseminating misinformation which is more difficult to reveal. The fact that some people think they are immune to fake news is a big problem, she said.

"Science doesn't always have all the answers, which is then exploited by those who share misinformation and conspiracy theories. In addition to compromised media space and poor communication by politicians, it is a fact that it isn't easy to communicate about science in a comprehensible way," warned Vučković.

The postulates of news reporting envisage that media outlets ought to report in a well-balanced, unbiased, and fair manner and that all sides should be presented. This is why media outlets often give the same space to the arguments for COVID vaccination and to those against vaccination, despite the fact that there is a consensus in the scientific community that inoculation helps in the fight against disease, said Mato Brautović from the University of Dubrovnik. 

"The more citizens are exposed to traditional media reporting in line with that postulate, the more they will trust it. A balanced report does not necessarily mean 50:50, or those arguments of 'anti-vaxxers' and 'vaxers' should be presented in the same amount," he said. 

Speaking about why people trust fake news, Professor Andrea Vranić from the Zagreb Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb said that people had a limited capacity to process the information they receive.

"Based on one article, we will generalize and create an attitude while emotions will motivate us to act, as long as it primarily has to do with fear for oneself and one's loved ones," she said.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Croatian Teachers Under Pressure: Angry Parents Behind Straight A Pupil Epidemic?

September 8, 2021 - The flood of straight-A pupils in Croatian elementary schools sadly isn't a sign of brilliance but of Croatian teachers being put under pressure by parents who want their kids to go to the best high schools in the country. The newly launched Facebook group wants to get to the bottom of fake A's, offering Croatian teachers a place for anonymous confessions.

Parents naturally want their best for their children and want to see them succeed and have the best life possible. The smarter the child, the better things will be for them, many would conclude. If a child is like that middle child from the show ''Malcolm in the Middle'', bright enough to be the master of everything you throw at him, be it maths, language, physics, or history, he should be able to sail through life worry-free, right? Well, maybe.

In reality, such gifted individuals, if actually real, are truly rare. However, you wouldn't think that if you were to see the grades of some Croatian pupils, with a large number of them getting straight A's. Unfortunately, this is a distorted picture of reality.

''I teach the youngest kids, and the criteria is owed to the parental pressure. I'm there just to hand out A's. Nothing else is good enough. I was even reported to the inspection because I gave one pupil a B (she was a C, but I knew there would be a problem so I gave her a B, and then chaos began). I justified giving her that grade for weeks with the threat of inspections hanging over my head. The grades are perfect, the knowledge not so much, the kid and their parents are happy, and the teachers crapped all over,'' reads a thread from one of the increasingly pressured Croatian teachers on the recently launched Facebook group ''Why Does it Itch When it's Not 5.0?'' (Zašto žulja kad nije 5.0?).


FB thread translated above, screenshot / Zašto žulja kad nije 5.0?

The flood of straight-A students (or, in Croatian terms, those kids with an average of 5.0, meaning they passed all subjects with a 5, Croatian for A), has been sporadically addressed in the Croatian media over the past few months as elementary school pupils were heading off to their high schools. So many straight A pupils have their results rated as unrealistic and the parental pressure placed on Croatian teachers and professors is seen as what's to blame.

A grades given as a gift and not as a true measure of a child's knowledge was something that was even addressed in the curriculum reform and is waiting to be fully implemented. With high school admissions coming to a close, the situation has since gone rather quiet.

But, then, famous Croatian investigative journalist Ivana Paradžiković published a Facebook thread expressing dissatisfaction that her ''4.8 son'' didn't managed to get accepted into high school in any of the six gymnasiums he applied for, as they were accepting only those kids with a grade of 5.0 in the new school year. She stated that her son was good enough for the European Film Academy but apparently not for the Croatian education system.

''He had the misfortune of going to a school where an A grade wasn't given away, and it was important to the professors that instead, they actually teach kids something. Over there, 4.4 is a B and not an A, and to me, that was always normal and acceptable (...) several classes with 30 pupils each with a straight A grade and nobody finds that unusual nor alarming... The education system is the foundation of the society,'' wrote the rightfully unhappy Paradžiković, as reported by Jutarnji List.

Paradžiković's thread, as well as the previous media coverage of the straight A epidemic across many Croatian schools, triggered freelance journalist Matina Tenžera to start a Facebook group which discusses the matter. The group consists of 249 members at the time of writing this article.

''I want to survey public opinion about this issue. Some say it's the fault of the system, but that's a bit too abstract. I want to find out how much parents really do push their children, is it truly such a big issue or maybe it's blown out of proportion?''  Tenžera said to TCN.

The group invites Croatian teachers to share their inside stories on parental pressure and generally what stands behind this unrealistic picture of the success of Croatian pupils on paper. The response so far is small, but Tenžera hopes that interest will grow. As TCN previously reported, Facebook groups that share anonymous confessions played a crucial role in revealing sexual harassment in the Croatian higher education system, mainly at the acting academy in Zagreb and other parts of the wider region.

Still, the small amount of threads gathered by Tenžera's group already reveals some true horror stories about how teachers in Croatia are perceived more as slaves than as valued individuals tasked with properly preparing the next generation for adulthood out there in the big wide world.

''My mother works as a teacher, and the situation in which someone came to school to attack and threaten to sue her because she gave a low grade to the child of someone famous has happened more than once. She literally had to remove the grade under the threat of getting fired,'' reads one anonymous confession.


FB thread translated above, screenshot / Zašto žulja kad nije 5.0?

Tenžera wants to learn just why Croatian schools and their headmasters don't take a stand and explain to parents that a good grade needs to be worked for and earned.

''I'm just a layman, but I hope that experts and experienced teachers will join the group and provide some of their solutions,'' says Tenžera.

Zagreb's Vladimir Prelog Science School and Mathematical Gymnasium (MIOC) has already taken to the practice of having entrance exams to settle the difference between talented pupils on paper and actual talented pupils.

Introducing and valuing entrance exams more than elementary school grades is one solution Tenžera believes could work, but as she points out, she isn't an expert. So, she hopes the Facebook group will encourage discussion for those who are educated, trained, and qualified to discuss education issues.

The following days will reveal whether or not this Facebook group grow into a bigger voice protesting against unfair and unethical practices in the Croatian education system and the abuse of Croatian teachers.

Meanwhile, in the first week of the new school year in Croatia, pupils are back in their classrooms learning about the world around them. However, the lesson of honesty and getting only what you work hard for is a lesson only their families can teach. Not threatening teachers for giving grades that are a realistic, professional evaluation of knowledge is lesson number one.

Read about Croatian politics and history since 1990 on our TC guide.

For more about education in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Personal Data of Half a Million Croatian Facebook Users Leaked

April the 5th, 2021 - The social media giant Facebook suffered another security and privacy issue recently, and Croatian Facebook users weren't left untouched by it as the personal data and information of more than half a million Croatian Facebook users ended up being leaked by a hacker.

Facebook, much like every social media platform or messaging app has fallen under scrutiny of late in regard to the privacy status of the private information of its users, and a recent hacking issue saw as many as 533 million Facebook users from across the world (106 countries) have their personal data leaked and subsequently published on a forum.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, among the leaked private Facebook information was the telephone/mobile numbers of the social media giant's many global users, as well as other sorts of personal data such as people's full names, locations and dates of birth. In some cases, even the personal e-mail addresses linked with the Facebook accounts of the site's users ended up being published on the forum.

The respected publication Business Insider, located in New York, checked some of the published data and confirmed that it was indeed authentic data.

“The published data could be extremely important for cybercriminals who could use such personal data for fraud,” warned Alon Gal, a cybersecurity expert who first pointed out this new security issue for Facebook's countless international users.

“A database of this size holding the private data of Facebook users such as their phone numbers will certainly lead to criminals using that data,” Gal told Business Insider.

Gal also looked at the Facebook user data which was leaked on a country by country basis. When it comes to the Republic of Croatia, that number alarmingly reached as many as 659,115 Croatian Facebook users, as was recently reported Vecernji list.

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