PETALING JAYA: When news that a massacre of Malaysians had taken place in North Korea first appeared online recently, it went viral on social media and shocked the nation. However, it turned out later that the report was fake.
This is one of the many instances where social media such as Facebook was used as a conduit to spread fake news. The consequences, if not controlled and monitored, can be serious – in this case further straining the political ties between the two countries.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has discovered some 1,000 cases of fake news that has gone viral on the Internet.
Prompted by the escalating danger of fake news, MCMC has launched fact-checking website sebenarnya.my for the public to check the authenticity of information. It will also submit information found to be false.
In November last year, The Star Online introduced a new content category called ‘True or Not’ (http://www.thestar.com.my/news/true-or-not/) to debunk fake news, which has garnered a lot of attention from the public.
Articles featured in the ‘True or Not Section’ such as ‘Video of tigers mauling zookeeper in 2008’ and ‘Elderly lady not a child kidnapper’ attracted a sizeable following among The Star Online readers and social media crowd.
Fake news has been viral since the United States presidential election, when a number of made-up stories were widely circulated on social media, as some people were too quick to share articles that confirm their beliefs.
Technically, fake news is “misinformation crafted to influence public opinion or cull digital advertising dollars” as defined by the Columbia Journalism Review.
Moving Walls chief executive officer Srikanth Ramachandran said the issue of fake news revolved around the authenticity of the facts of the articles shared that usually carry unknown intent.
“One must rely on reliable news sites and do his or her own analysis of the content.
“This is where traditional and established media houses have the upper hand as being reliable sources of information,” he told The Star recently.
On the other hand, Srikanth explained that the public must also understand that social media such as Facebook was created as a social online platform mainly for casual networking and entertainment.
“It has never been intended to be a serious platform of news and information.
“Everybody is free to share their own views through sharing news and posting comments in exaggeration for entertainment.
“In social media, the curation level of news is also not there.
“But what is more alarming now is fake news is also on Whatsapp, where we cannot trace the source or sharing threads,” he said.
In gauging the widespread activity of fake news and its effect, a recent study by Hunt Allcott from New York University and Matthew Gentzkow from Stanford University entitled Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election came up with a rather interesting outcome.
In short, the study has proven that although fabricated stories favouring Donald Trump were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election, it was unlikely that fake news swayed the election.
The top fake news stories are identified by BuzzFeed and two prominent fact-checking sites, Snopes and PolitiFact.
Facebook user Sangeetha Nair often checks on the source of news when in doubt. “I also Google the title or keywords in the headline and that is almost a foolproof method. If it is real, then other major news agencies would usually report the same story,” she said.
The fake news phenomenon has also been spreading to the trading of shares in the stock market, dubbed as ‘pump and dump’ activities.
Operators of the pump and dump schemes are usually transacted through the social media, and would typically begin by spreading false or misleading statements, news or rumours in investor blogs, chat groups such as Telegram, WhatsApp, WeChat, electronic bulletin board postings or online newsletters to entice or recommend unsuspecting investors to buy stocks which are touted as “hot” picks.
This is to facilitate the disposal of the stocks that they had accumulated earlier at higher prices.
On a bigger scale to curb fake news, tech companies such as Google have also taken initiatives to solve the problem of verification.
It is one of the founding members of the First Draft News coalition which aims to improve social news gathering and verification and part of The Trust Project to distinguish authoritative journalism from promotional content and fakery.
In December last year, Facebook announced that it would begin flagging fake news stories with the help of users and outside fact checkers, following massive complaints over fake news during the US election.
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