Fake news – a global concern

Last March 4, the BBC reported on the joint declaration regarding fake news, disinformation and propaganda by Mr. David Kaye (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression) and his counterparts from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organisation of American States (OAS) and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

After some minutes of flicking and clicking online, I got into one of the United Nations’ websites which I thought would shed more light on this declaration. Someone from the Special Procedures Division of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights responded promptly to my request for a copy of the declaration.

This declaration focuses on concerns about fake news and the risk of censorship while trying to combat these. It, likewise, mentions the danger in which the growing prevalence of fake news or disinformation, fuelled by both State and non-State individuals and agencies, mislead citizens and interfere with people’s right to know the truth. Charter 6, the last section, says “All stakeholders – including intermediaries, media outlets, civil society and academia – should be supported in developing participatory and transparent initiatives for creating a better understanding of the impact of disinformation and propaganda on democracy, freedom of expression, journalism and civic space, as well as appropriate responses to these phenomena.”

Last month, you most probably heard about the much publicised video of a female cyclist responding to catcalls from men in a van by chasing them and destroying their vehicle’s wing mirror. This was posted on Facebook then by the media; several of them later updated their stories calling it as a hoax or fake.
How to recognise fake news?

Publishing or reporting fake news undermines the trustworthiness of the media as a whole. But, why are some media outlets and journalists not careful and thorough with their information?

Facts and information take more time, effort and money to produce than entertainment-style reporting. Even well-known major media organisations use entertainment model to gain maximum audience and profits.

The onus, therefore, is for us – the consumers (readers, listeners, audiences) to decide whether we want to be informed or entertained. If our goal is the former; firstly, we should find out about the source of the information (i.e. do we recognise the author or publisher)? Are there supporting materials or reports from credible sources, i.e. has it been reported elsewhere? Most importantly, let’s be more questioning and less accepting, such as thinking about underlying purposes or intentions of the story and its source (e.g. income from ad platforms, political gain or propaganda).
Why are fake news believable?

Stories are attention getter (e.g. outlandish, involving famous people) and disseminated to meet specific agenda, but not really to inform factually. As well, often their formats and sources resemble those of reputable media outlets. According to the U.S. News & World Report (https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2016-11-14/avoid-these-fake-news-sites-at-all-costsPrdicker@usnews.com.ublication), these news outlets produce fake news: The Onion (satire), The Borowitz Report – The New Yorker (satire), American News (hoax), Daily Buzz Live (propaganda) and World Truth TV (propaganda).

Why should we be vigilant about fake news?
According to research results by Zubiaga, Arkaitz; et al. (PLOS ONE, 2016. doi: 10.1371/journal), “Whilst one can readily see users denying rumors once they have been debunked, users appear to be less capable of distinguishing true from false rumors when their veracity remains in question.” As well, “highly reputable users such as news organizations endeavor to post well-grounded statements, which appear to be certain and accompanied by evidence. Nevertheless, these often prove to be unverified pieces of information that give rise to false rumors.”

Though we may know that it’s a fake news, we (human beings) have the tendency to remember this because of its entertaining element that interests and abets processing.

False news influences beliefs, attitudes and actions; therefore, can lead to fears, conflicts and loss of job/family/friends/belongings. It divides and destabilises communities and society as a whole.

For instance, fake news about crimes committed by illegal entrants and refugees, such as the reported rape in Germany that led to street protests (although Germany’s government officials debunked it quickly), undermine peace and the country’s refugee and humanitarian programme.
When it comes to our decisions and actions, there’s no short cut or substitute for facts and truths. Thus, we should always go for reports that have in depth analyses and are professionally-generated.

*(The prefix dis indicates reversal while mis means wrong or erroneous. Misinformation is a form of disinformation that is disseminated intentionally to mislead or confuse).

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