Telling real from fake news


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 30 Mar 2017

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PETALING JAYA: Traditional media remains relevant and trustworthy in the wake of fake news and inaccurate information flooding social media, according to media experts.

Readers still turn to print and credible electronic news agencies for verified information, they said when asked to comment on how shorter news cycles have made it harder to tell fact from fiction.

This is especially difficult during breaking news events like the March 22 terror attack in London.

According to an article in The New York Times, online “sleuths” were quick to identify the suspect as radical British cleric Abu Izzadeen – who was in prison at the time – before authorities later named the correct man, British-born Khalid Masood. But Izzadeen’s name had already gone out on social media and even on a British news programme. The broadcaster later apologised for the error.

“Inaccuracy happens because of too much emphasis on speed and this can be avoided by taking some time to fact check,” said former journalist turned academician Dr Faridah Ibrahim.

The occasional fumble aside, mainstream media still places more emphasis on getting the information right over being fast, she said, because journalists are trained to be accurate, professional, responsible and ethical.

“This differentiates them from content creators who are technologically savvy and have the flair but lack responsibility and ethics,” said Dr Faridah, who is executive dean of Infrastructure University KL’s Faculty of Arts, Communication and Education.

Part-time lecturer and former executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism and the Southeast Asian Press Aliance, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, said many people still believed that only journalists have access to relevant sources for verified information as opposed to what is plucked from social media.

She added that media credentials “give journalists the chance to get in touch with authorities or other sources to verify facts, and readers expect that because it isn’t something they can do for themselves”.

Gayathry said getting the news out quickly and accurately is tied to a news agency’s business model and there has always been a need to balance the two.

“The key to doing this today is for editors and journalists to be well-prepared. That would require ongoing training not only in reporting but also in making quick value judgments, so journalists can quickly and ethically verify any information they receive,” she said.

Both Gayathry and Dr Faridah said there was a difference between fake news and inaccurate information, with the former being a conscious act and the latter, an unwitting one.

“It is wrong to generalise. Unless we can pinpoint the source of information or prove that it was created out of an intention to mislead the public, it is unfair to mark it as fake news,” Gayathry said.

However, she noted, there are sensible readers who have developed the habit of checking before sharing.

“As much as people are sharing information without even checking, there are also others who respond by urging their peers to be careful with their content,” she said.

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