Fighting ‘fake news’

FAKE news” made it as the word of the year in 2017. Will government regulation become popular as a means to curb the spread of fake news in 2018?

The head of a Harvard University think-tank addressing media issues expressed the global concern that “2018 is the year of governments and fake news inquiries.”

In a video message presented during the Feb. 12-13 Democracy and Disinformation Forum participated by about 400 journalists, academics, advocates, and other citizens in Manila, Claire Wardle, First Draft executive director, observed that many politicians regarded “regulation is the answer” to fake news, reported inquirer.net.

However, Wardle pointed out how the Philippines is an “incredible case study” in recognizing the damage inflicted by disinformation and the “huge repercussions” heightened government regulation would have for the free press.

Wardle’s view was echoed by other resource persons during the forum. Howie Severino of GMA Network and Maria Ressa of Rappler observed that Filipinos fought back by breaking their silence and countering official pronouncements that dismissed the flagrant infringement of civil liberties, particularly extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.

According to Ressa, the online news site monitored a “period of ‘silence” muzzling netizens from August 2016 to August 2017. “More courage” has since then been exhibited by citizens in being more critical, said Severino.

Crucial for democracies, only an informed and participatory public can exercise the power of critical public opinion to demand accountability from the state and check its propensity to abuse its power against the press, theorized Jürgen Habermas.

Since the state faces a potential conflict of interests, stemming from its mandate to protect public welfare and its aversion to criticism and opposition of its policies and decisions, two stakeholders are necessary for checking and balancing the state: the press and citizens.

Forum speakers John Nery of the “Philippine Daily Inquirer” and foreign correspondent Peter Greste emphasized the twin responsibilities of journalists: practice the profession while adhering to the highest ethics and standards, and contribute to enhancing the media literacy of audiences and their power to monitor, criticize, and protect the press.

Computer programmer Carlos Nazareno, who counters and corrects revisionist online material about martial law, urged in the same forum that netizens alert other netizens about fake news websites; report such sites to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines’ (NUJP) fakeblok.com; and demand that Facebook bans fake user accounts and that law enforcement agencies shut down fake news sites.

As every student has learned, solving a problem begins with defining the problem. In fighting fake news, citizens and journalists must reinforce the correct definition of fake news: “fabrications” that were exposed after verification with multiple sources. 

“Fake news” is not a weapon to wield against a press that scrutinizes and criticizes official acts and pronouncements or exposes a politician’s inconsistencies.

The bombardment of “junk news,” which deceives by pretending to be authentic reporting, is traced to a preponderance of “Trump supporters, hard conservatives, and right-wing groups,” recently revealed the Oxford University’s Internet Institute, which studied for a year and a half 91 kinds of propaganda spread through Twitter and Facebook by citizens representing all persuasions in the political spectrum.

The danger of ideological “echo chambers” must give more courage to citizens to be alert for and fight the spread of fake news and the risks threatening discourse: intolerance, hate, “extreme polarization,” “paralysis and crisis,” and ultimately, the breakdown of democracy.
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