EVER since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in early 2017, the term “fake news” has become deeply entrenched in the global socio-political landscape and Southeast Asia is no exception to the phenomenon.
And while Trump often uses the term to condemn news that is critical of him, the pace at which undisputable disinformation is being spread on social media has posed a headache for policymakers, traditional media, and tech companies all across the globe.
On Monday, several stakeholders who convened at the East-West Center International Media Conference in Singapore, joined a panel to discuss ways to combat such disinformation.
One of those on the panel, Communications and Information Senior Minister Dr. Janil Puthucheary, said providing truthful information is the personal responsibility for all stakeholders, including governments, academics, the traditional press, social platforms, and citizens.
In recent months, Singapore has also mulled legislating fake news but the plans to impose new laws on the matter had no timeline or deadline.
“Legislation alone is not going to be sufficient in preventing people from trying to exploit the (media) space because the payoffs for successful exploitation are so great,”
“If legislation is to be considered, it must be part of a multifaceted approach that addresses the whole issue, from how people consume news right all the way to how people profit from the news.”
Defining “fake news” as the intention to spread misinformation, Singapore’s The Straits Times Editor Warren Fernandez, said the term must be clearly distinguished from comedy, satire, analysis, opinion, and commentary.
Fernandez said The Straits Times launched a media literacy initiative that provides schoolteachers with news content that will provoke classroom discussion. This is part of an effort to achieve the “ultimate solution” of creating a public that has sceptical and inquisitive minds.
The paper’s initiative also falls in line with the Singaporean government’s new school curriculum to help students engage with media literacy and critical thinking.
Facebook’s head of public policy in Southeast Asia, Alvin Tan, says the social media platform does a lot of work countering violent extremism around region, adding 99.8 percent of terrorist groups Islamic State and Al-Qaeda related content was removed before they were flagged by users.
Another way Facebook combats fake news is by removing fake accounts – the company has removed 583 million fake accounts in the first quarter of the year.
“If you look at the scale, about 2.2 billion monthly users on Facebook 583 million accounts are removed at registration and that is quite a significant number,” he said, adding it has removed 700 million instances of spam.
The company, Alivn said, also has big plans to expand its third-party fact-checking service beyond countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.
Professor Cherian George, of the Department of Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the term “fake news” carried extremely dangerous consequences if the public becomes cynical about all news sources and reliability of information.
But even before Trump turned “fake news” into a buzzword, Cherian suggested the term is not new, pointing out that without such disinformation in 2003, American politicians would not have accepted the then President Geroge Bush’s assertions that Iraq harboured weapons of mass destruction, possibly saving thousands of lives.