“Bogus news stories appearing online and on social media appear to have had a greater reach in the final months of the campaign than articles by authoritative, mainstream news outlets” (Obama Hits Out at Spread of Fake News, The Straits Times).
The problem of fake news sites and the spread of misinformation and disinformation – in the recent context of the recent presidential election in the United States, where “bogus news stories appearing online and on social media appear to have had a greater reach in the final months of the campaign than articles by authoritative, mainstream news outlets” (ST, Nov. 19) – has proliferated. And even though sites such as Facebook and Google can and should stem the dissemination of fake stories by targeting their online sources of revenue, the onus is also on individuals to be cognisant of these financial streams, to spot signs of fabricated content, and to therefore not click on or share such content.
Deciding how to censor or to remove offensive content on social media sites or search engines may not be as straightforward, because opportunists will work to get around new algorithms, and in different contexts – cultural or otherwise – perceptions can vary. But surely a line can be drawn with links, pages, or sites with no factual basis whatsoever. Besides shutting these pages or sites down, cutting off advertising revenue would hit their administrators where it hurts, and for the time being stem the unhealthy flow of misinformation and disinformation. Singapore too has not been immune to this phenomenon, and along this tangent mainstream news providers must resist temptations to sensationalise.
In the long-term, however, the ability of individuals to discern between fact and fiction matters. Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, in the aftermath of the presidential election, wrote that “more than 99 per cent of what people see [on Facebook] is authentic”. Yet on a site where active users generate hundreds of millions of posts every day, the amount of fake content remains quite substantial. And given the aforementioned limitations, media literacy can go a long way. Understanding how bogus news stories shape the present media landscape is a good start, and should even prompt further discourse about the online “filter bubbles“, and furthermore the ramifications of these “echo chambers“.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.