Only the free media can fight fake news threat

Smartphone witness reports, tweeted by passers-by, would vanish into the ether if they were not found and shared by a diminishing number of paid journalists
Smartphone witness reports, tweeted by passers-by, would vanish into the ether if they were not found and shared by a diminishing number of paid journalists

In countries with no reliable, trusted source of mainstream news, people make money by inventing stories



By Angela Phillips

Published: Sun 11 Mar 2018, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 11 Mar 2018, 10:20 PM

The Internet was expected to renew democracy, tackle the hegemony of the monopoly news providers and draw us all into a global community. That idea has been undermined by a new myth which suggests that democracy is, in fact, being overturned and that news organisations are losing their power to keep people informed.
But, there is no evidence to suggest that made-up stories from fake news sites have had any significant impact. The BBC and the mainstream media are still our major sources of information both on and offline. Research during the EU referendum campaign found of all Twitter links analysed, 63.9 per cent led to stories from professional news organisations. Junk news made up around 5 per cent of the total and there was "little evidence of Russian content".
The Internet was supposed to improve democracy by breaking up the media monopolies and allowing everyone to join the conversation. However, the Internet always boosts the most popular voice in every niche, so the biggest news providers are still the most read, and small news publications struggle for funds. Certainly there is more choice if you look for it, but the biggest concern is the number of people who have simply tuned out altogether and choose to watch kittens and comedy rather than news.
Every individual can broadcast from their smart phones with the feeling that all are journalists, but mostly share pictures of children. The effect of digital disruption has been that the media landscape is becoming more concentrated and the number of paid journalists is dropping as "legacy" media organisations struggle with falling revenues. But audience members have not replaced them - those smartphone witness reports, tweeted by passers-by, would vanish into the ether if they were not found and shared by a diminishing number of paid journalists.
Books with titles such as The Wisdom of Crowds have suggested that the Internet would lead to a form of pure direct democracy because, if you ask enough people a question, the answer will always be correct. Of course, this isn't always the case. But this naive optimism did not factor in the myriad ways in which people (or in this case their data) could be manipulated. In countries with no reliable and trusted source of mainstream news, people make money by inventing stories tailored to press buttons of fear and prejudice.
But fake news is not the preserve of junk-news factories. In late February, The Sun removed from its site an entirely specious article about savings to be made from Brexit after a mauling by economist Jonathan Portes. But by that time the story had already been retweeted by leading Conservative Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to his 121,000 followers. Rees-Mogg has not (to date) corrected or apologised for his tweet ­- but then he only follows five people so he may not know about his error.
The Internet has not produced a 'global village'. The global village was the brainchild of American media scholar Marshal McLuhan who - as early as 1964 - expounded the idea that in the electronic age, everyone would have access to the same information through technology. This would seem to have been borne out by the Internet.
But evidence suggests that the centralising tendency of monopoly global media is growing. A tiny number of companies including Facebook and Google are now the gatekeepers to information - and they are nearly all American.
There is no lack of trust in mainstream media. When asked whether people trust the media, the tendency in many countries is to say no - but when asked whether they trust their favourite news outlet, trust levels rise dramatically.
The new digital generation is not mistrustful of mainstream news. Young people are no more instinctively able to navigate online than they would be able to drive a car without lessons.
We are not helpless in the face of social media age nor are we liberated by it. As with previous major technical shifts, we are in the processing of adapting it to our needs and that process varies according to who we are and where we live. Democracy will be strengthened if we learn how to use the internet wisely. If we leave it to the winds of the free market we may indeed find that it overwhelms us.
When KT fell victim to fake news
It has been brought to our notice that some propaganda agencies are using the credible name of Khaleej Times to propagate fake news about an alleged meeting between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Khaleej Times wishes to put on record that we condemn such fake news in the strictest possible terms. Khaleej Times has not published any such report regarding the alleged meeting.
The fake news reports falsely cite Khaleej Times quoting an unnamed official of the Palestinian Authority, commenting on the alleged meeting.
Khaleej Times has neither met nor quoted any PA official regarding any such alleged meeting.
This seems to be part of a propaganda to malign the efforts of Arab allies to bring lasting peace in the region, while also tarnishing the Khaleej Times brand name.
KT vehemently refutes and denounces such reports.
-The Conversation
Angela Phillips is Professor, Goldsmiths, University of London


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