Me­dia bat­tles against scourge of ‘fake news’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - ARTHI GOPI and CANDICE SOOBRAMONEY

FAKE ac­counts and trolls are be­ing used as “weapons” on so­cial me­dia, driv­ing on­line pro­pa­ganda with no checks and bal­ances, dup­ing the un­sus­pect­ing pub­lic.

Speak­ing at the World News Me­dia Congress in Dur­ban yes­ter­day, jour­nal­ists said fake news was drown­ing out prop­erly-re­searched ar­ti­cles on the net, lead­ing to “ne­ti­zens” believ­ing fake news.

“Peo­ple don’t know what to be­lieve any­more. It is a pretty alarm­ing sit­u­a­tion, it’s hard to keep up with all the fake news out there,” said Guy Berger, di­rec­tor for Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion and Me­dia De­vel­op­ment at Unesco.

Maria Ressa, chief ex­ec­u­tive of on­line news ser­vice Rap­pler, in the Philip­pines, shared her ex­pe­ri­ence of how so­cial me­dia was “weaponised” to spread fake in­for­ma­tion about her.

The Philip­pines, said Ressa, ranked the high­est glob­ally for the num­ber of hours spent on­line, with an av­er­age of 5.5 hours of desk­top and 3.5 hours on mo­bile per day.

“Jour­nal­ists de­liver the in­for­ma­tion, peo­ple re­ceive it, then make de­ci­sions on what they’ve read. Those de­ci­sions are based on emo­tions and how they felt when read­ing or watch­ing the in­for­ma­tion. Emo­tions then travel on so­cial net­works peo­ple are linked to,” she said.

The dan­ger comes when bots (a com­puter pro­gram that does au­to­mated tasks) and fake ac­counts take over.

Ressa faced an on­line on­slaught by seem­ingly thou­sands of peo­ple, but when she and her in­ves­tiga­tive team an­a­lysed ev­ery “per­son” who ha­rassed her on­line, they found that thou­sands were fake ac­counts. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions whit­tled the list down to three peo­ple who at­tacked her for ques­tion­ing Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte.

The posts of the three were au­to­mat­i­cally shared and retweeted by bots and other fake ac­counts, mak­ing it ap­pear as though she was a lone crit­i­cal voice of the gov­ern­ment.

“Those ac­counts had a reach of up to three mil­lion other ac­counts. Our democ­racy is at a tip­ping point. But we can’t give up. As much as fake news is out there, we be­lieve in the good and that’s why jour­nal­ists will al­ways be there be­cause we are com­mit­ted to our com­mu­ni­ties,” she said.

Kjer­sti Lo­ken Stavrum, of Nor­way’s Tinius Trust, said there was a mas­sive de­mand from me­dia au­di­ences for news to be de­liv­ered in a dif­fer­ent way, be­cause fake news was con­structed and de­liv­ered in a way that ap­pealed to peo­ple.

“As me­dia we have to re­spond to this on­slaught of fake news and learn to present the news in a man­ner that is us­able, find­able, valu­able, cred­i­ble, ac­ces­si­ble, and de­sir­able. This amounts to the whole on­line user ex­pe­ri­ence, but re­mains pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism,” said Stavrum.

The South African Na­tional Edi­tors’ Fo­rum said fake news could not con­tinue and en­cour­aged me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions to work with it in fight­ing it.

Sanef me­dia free­dom sub com­mit­tee chair­per­son Sam Mkokeli told del­e­gates the in­dus­try should col­lab­o­rate and com­pile a list of au­then­tic news sites.

A list of some of the com­mon spoof and fake news sites which con­tinue to dupe read­ers, he said, should also be dis­trib­uted.

He said web­sites and on­line plat­forms dis­sem­i­nat­ing fake news also de­vel­oped replica sites of le­git­i­mate news agen­cies and pub­lished sto­ries that tugged at read­ers’ emo­tions.

“A num­ber of so­cial me­dia ac­counts look sim­i­lar... and a pub­lic that is not alert of the prob­lem, don’t know who (or what) to trust.”

Mkokeli said there was “big money” be­hind some of the fake cam­paigns, which were well co-or­di­nated.

Jane El­iz­a­beth, of the Amer­i­can Press In­sti­tute, said they sur­veyed 10 000 grad­u­ates of jour­nal­ism schools in the US and asked them what was one of the many chal­lenges that faced the in­dus­try.

“We gave them 10 choices and the num­ber one an­swer was the flood of false in­for­ma­tion on­line,” said El­iz­a­beth.

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