Noth­ing but the truth will do

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

MANY would agree the con­se­quences of dis­in­for­ma­tion, mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate speech can be dis­as­trous for com­mu­ni­ties and na­tions. Such de­vices are ca­pa­ble of pro­vok­ing wide­spread pub­lic alarm, street vi­o­lence and civil­i­sa­tional wars.

They can lead to mis­guided choices made at the polls or give a for­eign power a strate­gic ad­van­tage.

Hence it would be folly to do noth­ing to curb this vi­ral men­ace, given the speed at which bla­tant lies and worked-up pas­sions can travel.

Just what steps should be taken to safe­guard so­ci­eties, how­ever, is a mat­ter of con­sid­er­able de­bate. A heavy-handed ap­proach might curb the free­dom of ex­pres­sion. At the other end of the scale, token mea­sures will have no de­ter­rent ef­fect.

In an ideal world, the gi­ants of the dig­i­tal world would prac­tise a code of con­duct to ex­punge ex­treme con­tent within hours of a le­git­i­mate com­plaint. But, be­ing im­per­fect, the world is see­ing “fake news” pro­lif­er­at­ing like a cancer in­stead.

Ger­many and Bri­tain are among the na­tions look­ing at legal mea­sures to tackle this prob­lem. Sin­ga­pore too is pre­par­ing to in­tro­duce laws next year to rein in ex­cesses.

When opin­ions are con­strued as false facts, leg­is­la­tion could have the un­in­tended ef­fect of sup­press­ing view­points.

Thus, the law must be clear about its tar­get. The aim could be to get the likes of Face­book, Google and Twit­ter to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff.

If the test of false­hood in cy­berspace is con­tent that breaks ex­ist­ing laws, pri­vate com­pa­nies will have to judge the truth and the le­gal­ity of posts, which Face­book in­sists is un­rea­son­able.

It’s true that the vol­ume of dig­i­tal con­tent to be mon­i­tored is huge. But a hands-off ap­proach would turn the in­ter­net into a sanc­tu­ary for in­sur­gents, crim­i­nals and cranks.

Fact-check­ers must be part of a me­dia ecosys­tem that builds rather than de­stroys trust in le­git­i­mate news sources.

Whether it is to delete or tag ex­treme con­tent, or to pro­vide ver­i­fied data to counter false­hoods, all must act speed­ily to counter the cor­ro­sive ef­fects of false news. –

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