“I believe that the media should be very clear, very transparent, and not fall prey—without offence, please—to the sickness of coprophilia, which is always wanting to communicate scandal, to communicate ugly things, even though they may be true, and since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, it can do great harm.” – Pope Francis
These resounding words by the Pope on the spread of fake news addresses one of the biggest issues that have been on the rise steadily. The majority of us depend on various online news sites to stay updated on happenings not just locally, but also internationally. But what happens when the informer becomes the misleader?
The presence of social media in almost every person’s life means that the pace with which fake news can spread is alarming. The issue came into prominence with the recent US election. It called to attention the role that fake news could have played, possibly, in affecting the mindset of the people in regards to the two candidates as well as various core matters that affected the race.
However, the fake news crisis does not only apply to the US, it’s an issue that has been taking hold globally. From the rumours concerning Merkel in Germany where it was suggested that she used to be in the East German Secret Police or STASI to speculations that saw her as Adolph Hitler’s daughter, to France, Italy, Brazil, Australia and the microchip- installed 2000 rupee note rumours in India, the results of fake news and its ripple effect throughout the world was unprecedented.
“Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls – things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms, and we have to learn to deal with them.” – Angela Merkel
It takes just a click to share or post a news item which you believe to be accurate and responsibly published.
Who bears the responsibility for regulating Fake News?
The real question here is to who and how the responsibility for dealing with fake news is allocated. For example there is personal responsibility when it comes to factors such as digital literacy, there is government regulation and the responsibility of tech companies. Where personal responsibility is concerned, most people do not take the additional five minutes to fact check before sharing something they see online. This could be attributed mainly to a certain sense of irresponsibility which unknown to us is implanted in our subconscious – the thought that if it’s online it’s correct.
Is Fake News Facebook’s fault?
A story that made headlines was the one about the FB editorial team. According to the sources that reported this, the trending topics editorial team was thought to be censoring various news items that came from conservative sources. They were fired and a new algorithm was put into action instead. The algorithm, however went ballistic and started churning out fake news containing various explicit material. Many of the offending articles were removed by Facebook but speculation spread that the automation of the editorial task could have been a long-planned one for increasing revenues.
Fake News in Sri Lanka
In the recent past there have been quite a few fake news sites which have been posting misleading information online in Sri Lanka. Many news items which have been shared on sites such as Gossip lanka and Lanka B News, have been highlighted as been more of sharebait and less of actual facts. The biggest issue with these sites is the fact that users on a global level, tend to share the posts without checking and the resulting damage control could be quite messy.
What do we need to do? How do we prevent the fake news crisis from taking hold? The answers may be simple, but the execution may not be that straight forward. It needs to start from the grassroots level upwards, with each one of us taking responsibility and checking before clicking on the share button. It also extends to the various tech companies and sites to publish responsibly while maintaining quality, and not share pieces with the sole intention of profit.