20 February 2019
Facebook has taken out newspaper advertisements in Britain warning people about fake news. Photo: Sky News
Facebook has taken out newspaper advertisements in Britain warning people about fake news. Photo: Sky News

World steps up fight against fake news

“What is true cannot be fake; what is fake cannot be true.” If we apply this saying to the recent battle against fake news around the globe, those who work in the media industry must have mixed feelings in their hearts.

Ever since social networks have become a mainstream trend, online media has mushroomed, people’s habits of reading newspapers and absorbing news and information gradually changed, from reading paid newspapers to free newspapers, and visiting newspaper websites to viewing news updates shared on social media.

At first, people might think this change is only an inevitable stage of social progress with nothing to be moaned about.

Nevertheless, when the public is giving up the traditional way to acquire news and information but receiving a huge amount of free unverified information, we have got to ask: “Will this information distort our rational thinking?” or “Will we make wrong decisions based on some misleading information?”

Receiving news and information from reading newspapers to scrolling websites actually reflected the change in attitude to pursue knowledge among the audience.

Paid newspaper readers must be proactive and take news and information seriously, or else they will not be willing to pay for the newspapers. On the contrary, news is always mixed in scrambled information and arguments on social networks, in which the audience is passive in a way that they are just fed with news so they tend not to dwell on the authenticity of the news and information received.

Hence, social networks are always the hotbeds of fake news which contribute to the flood of fake news.

“Things will develop in the opposite direction when they become extreme”. The US presidential election made everyone astonished and realized that the overflow of fake news does not only affect the information that one received but also the destiny of a country.

Following the establishment of a special government organization to fight against fake news in the Czech Republic, Germany plans to draw up legislation against fake news as well for fear that the election results of this year would be controlled.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee (CMSC) of the United Kingdom has officially launched an investigation into “fake news” to prevent the public from receiving false promotional content. In Asia, Singapore and Taiwan are also looking into ways to cope with fake news.

There has been concern that the fight against fake news might infringe on the freedom of press and speech.

Yet, if we turn a blind eye to the issue and allow fake news to grow, society as a whole would pay a heavy price. Although fake news in Hong Kong still remains sporadic events, the public has already begun to realize the scourge of it.

After all, we often shape our understanding of things around, as well as our right and wrong judgment through news and information. If fake news and false information are everywhere, we can no longer make a rational analysis.

Social networking platforms including Facebook and Google have recently stated that they would strictly block the spread of fake news. It still takes time to see the results but I believe tackling the problem at its root is a truly effective measure.

From an optimistic point of view, every part of the world has started to stay alert to the harm that fake news could bring to society, thus the public is likely to reexamine the role and importance of traditional media.

Perhaps this is the reason both the circulation and readership of some traditional newspapers have begun to pick up recently.

Ranked No. 4 in circulation in the United States, the Washington Post has had a 75 percent increase in the number of subscribers last year.

It is true that it is still too early to tell whether the print media has revived.

However, in the face of international turmoil and a social environment filled with troubles, practices of traditional media featuring rigorous verification and objective reports have an irreplaceable function. Hope everyone could cherish and acknowledge that.

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Chairman, the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong

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