When fake news and tar­geted mis­in­for­ma­tion rule...

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - MIRROR BUSINESS - BY DI­NESH WEER­AKKODY (Di­nesh Weer­akkody is a thought leader)

In Sri Lanka, fab­ri­cated sto­ries posing as se­ri­ous jour­nal­ism is grad­u­ally be­com­ing the or­der of the day and is not likely to go away as they have be­come a means for some un­scrupu­lous writ­ers to make money and potentiall­y in­flu­ence pub­lic opin­ion for their po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ben­e­fit.

Even though many Sri Lankans recog­nise that fake news causes con­fu­sion about the cur­rent is­sues and events, they con­tinue to cir­cu­late it with­out ver­i­fi­ca­tion, know­ing very well that fake news is am­pli­fied and some­times cre­ated to achieve per­sonal goals of oth­ers.

The sto­ries do­ing the rounds on the In­ter­net a few weeks ago of po­ten­tial at­tacks, re­sult­ing in com­mu­nal ten­sions, is a case in point. Po­lit­i­cal sto­ries are to­day planted by vested in­ter­ests on pub­lic pages with­out even check­ing the ac­cu­racy with the peo­ple in­volved.

Of­ten in the past, a ru­mour of a pe­tro­leum short­age on the net un­nec­es­sar­ily brings many peo­ple onto the streets, caus­ing chaos. We are all over­whelmed with the rise of fake news, mis­lead­ing sources, satir­i­cal con­tent, click­bait and vi­cious facts of peo­ple. Run­ning a fake news site seems to have be­come much more dif­fi­cult this year. Oper­a­tors are be­ing forced to move to new do­main names as fil­ters and bans kick in faster and faster.

On the other hand, web­site do­main names are now so cheap it is al­most eco­nom­i­cal to use a new one for each story. The abil­ity to tell ac­cu­rate news from fake news is an im­por­tant skill that we need to ac­quire be­fore we start dump­ing in­for­ma­tion on pub­lic pages.

We, as cit­i­zens, should care about whether or not news is real or fake. Real news can ben­e­fit all of us. Fake news de­stroys your cred­i­bil­ity and de­stroys com­mu­nal har­mony.

Fake news can hurt you and a lot of other peo­ple around us.

We de­serve the truth be­cause you are in essence be­ing treated like a fool.

In­ter­net

The In­ter­net is an amas­ing place and the beauty of the In­ter­net is that there’s no space limit. The In­ter­net is an in­ter­na­tional network of net­works, which of­fers in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions a fast elec­tronic way to com­mu­ni­cate with each other.

The In­ter­net pro­vides a quick and easy ac­cess to the ex­change of in­for­ma­tion, to the shar­ing of apps and a way of join­ing dis­cus­sion groups on ev­ery sub­ject imag­in­able. In­ter­net sto­ries are in­creas­ingly graph­ics-ori­ented.

To­day, ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion on the In­ter­net has be­come eas­ier and more ef­fi­cient since the ap­pear­ance of Mo­saic and Netscape ap­pli­ca­tions. The In­ter­net plays an im­por­tant role in our world­wide elec­tronic in­for­ma­tion so­ci­ety to­day.

Very few gov­ern­ments have the com­pe­tence to un­der­stand the power of the WWW. They be­lieve just be­cause you read it on Face­book or some­body’s blog or in an email from a friend or rel­a­tive, it’s true. It’s prob­a­bly not.

How­ever, they need to ad­dress the prob­lem of bogus ‘sto­ries’ from fake news sites. False or mis­lead­ing vi­ral ru­mours we are asked about most of­ten at so­cial gath­er­ings left to do the rounds can only hurt the gov­ern­ment and com­mu­ni­ties much more than they can imag­ine.

There­fore, the ex­is­tence of any elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion ca­pa­bil­ity – an open plat­form that en­ables any­one, ev­ery­where, to share in­for­ma­tion, ac­cess op­por­tu­ni­ties and col­lab­o­rate across ge­o­graphic and cul­tural bound­aries glob­ally – is fundamenta­lly a ve­hi­cle for dis­sem­i­nat­ing pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion and can spread like wild­fire cour­tesy of the very open and un­lim­ited ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the In­ter­net, while the gov­ern­ment hap­pily naps.

Po­ten­tial

To­day, tech­no­log­i­cal change is re­shap­ing po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion all over the world. This is es­pe­cially true when it comes to com­mu­ni­cat­ing po­lit­i­cal is­sues with young peo­ple and po­lit­i­cal par­ties which ig­nore these new de­vel­op­ments will do so at their peril. The ex­pe­ri­ence of South Korea is cer­tainly a case in point.

A cy­ber-savvy cam­paign mo­bilised the youth vote to de­liver vic­tory to Pres­i­dent ROH and sim­i­larly for Pres­i­dent Trump in the US. The use­ful­ness of the In­ter­net for fundrais­ing is also an area very few peo­ple use.

The web is cer­tainly an area of great possibilit­y as shown by Obama’s cam­paign: for the 2008 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in the US. He emerged as an early front-run­ner due in part to his building a web-based con­stituency and mo­bil­is­ing a mas­sive amount of small do­na­tions via the In­ter­net.

Power of so­cial me­dia

So­cial me­dia has now rightly been cel­e­brated by activists as an em­pow­er­ing tool for ordinary cit­i­zens to mo­bilise against re­pres­sive rulers and make marginalis­ed voices heard. Be­hind the scenes, gov­ern­ments across the world have been ex­tremely ac­tive in de­vel­op­ing and re­fin­ing a whole arse­nal of tools to have sight of the dig­i­tal flow of in­for­ma­tion in their own coun­try, to pre­vent the de­struc­tion of en­dur­ing so­ci­etal val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions.

How­ever, de­spite that threat, activists use Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts to com­mu­ni­cate with one other very ef­fec­tivelya. There­fore, gov­ern­ments need to act smart and pro­tect their space, be­fore they be­come ob­so­lete and the fab­ric of our so­ci­ety is de­stroyed. Those who are con­ceal­ing them­selves be­hind the veil of so­cial me­dia to in­sti­gate vi­o­lence must be brought be­fore the law.

In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, the ‘dig­i­tal divide’ to­day ap­pears to ex­tend seam­lessly into the po­lit­i­cal realm to dis­rupt the sta­tus quo, with a strong pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus. Face­book, de­spite spend­ing two years launch­ing third-party fact-check­ing pro­grammes, rolling out News Feed up­dates and in­vest­ing in other anti-mis­in­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives, un­for­tu­nately is still the home of vi­ral fake news.

There­fore, we need to be more vig­i­lant for the sake of our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and to main­tain com­mu­nal har­mony in the best in­ter­est of our coun­try.

What Sri Lanka needs now is unity against all hate and re­spon­si­ble law­mak­ers who don’t fuel com­mu­nal ten­sion for po­lit­i­cal sur­vival

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