Fake News wages war on truth

Issue 367 April 15, 2017

Facebook has launched an educational campaign on ‘How to Spot Fake News.’

The campaign will be promoted in 14 countries, excluding New Zealand.

A BBC Report said that Facebook had taken the initiative to help people become more discerning readers.

“But experts questioned whether the measure would have any real impact,” the broadcaster said.

It also quoted Tom Felle, a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at City University as saying, “Until Facebook stops rewarding the architects of fake news with huge traffic, the problem will get worse.”

We at Indian Newslink have always maintained that every story should be checked and rechecked for its veracity and genuineness before it can be included in our digital and print versions. Our philosophy has always been ‘It is far better to be dependable than to be the first all the time.”

In this process, we have at times, let go stories that did not satisfy our norms.

Not that we always get things right.

But in the modern world of social media, where every reader and user can easily become a writer, the risk of fake news looms large.

Fake news stories have been around for as long as reported news has – hysteria-inducing hoaxes spread in the early days of printed media and today’s tabloids and gossip magazines still frequently publish stories later found to be untrue – but its online form gained momentum during the most bizarre US election in recent memory, proliferating on Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Donald Trump stories

As the Economist said, while some were dissecting stories of presidential candidate – now president – Donald Trump’s sexism and evasiveness around his tax returns, others were living in a parallel information universe, where their Facebook feeds were full of #pizzagate and the equally false story of President Obama banning the Pledge of Allegiance from schools.

“With trust in the media low, many people now prefer to navigate the murky waters of online media on their own – 62% of all Americans now get their news from social media, seeing an article posted to their newsfeed by a friend is, apparently, confirmation enough of its validity.”

Facebook, for its part, is changing its policies after a sluggish response to false stories before the election. The company announced this week that fake news articles in Germany will be marked as “disputed” ahead of the country’s elections in the fall. (Recently, a swirl of fake allegations began circulating concerning Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, who was said to be cavorting with terrorists.) Articles based on outright fabrications are just one of the ways in which news can mislead. Yet it might also be the easiest, technologically, to filter out. And every little helps.

We are hoping that this aspect of Fake News- how to detect and combat it – will become a part of our ongoing discussions on Good Governance, which is the quintessential aspect of the Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture. This year’s event will have the benefit of former Controller & Auditor General Lyn Provost as the Guest Speaker.

We would more of these in the ensuing editions.

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