Avoid ‘junk food’ news


  • Nation
  • Sunday, 07 Jul 2019

PETALING JAYA: A layperson should evaluate information with a critical eye and not rely solely on government, media and social media companies to counter falsities, says an expert.

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the University of Mary Washington, Dr Stephen J. Farnsworth (pic) said one should avoid “junk food” journalism, seek quality over quantity and be mindful of the news source to fight the scourge of fake news.

The Fulbright Specialist currently lecturing at the Methodist College Kuala Lumpur, Prof Farnsworth it was important to know if the information came from a real news outlet with actual journalists and if it was plausible.

“Seek out quality, not quantity in news consumption. Consider the motivations of those releasing the information. Be particularly concerned if the news comes to you via peer-to-peer communication.

“Think whether the person sending you the information demonstrates critical thinking skills about news,” he said during a public lecture on tackling fake news at MCKL yesterday.

Prof Farnsworth, who set up the Centre for Leadership and Media Studies at UMW, which is located about an hour from Washington DC, is the author of six books which include The Global President; Spinner in Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves and The Nightly News Nightmare: Media Coverage of U.S. Presidential Elections, 1988-2008.

He said although personally filtering false information from the truth was challenging and time-consuming, the alternative was letting fake news flourish with dangerous consequences.

He cited the rise of fake news on the issue of immunisation which led to many parents refusing to vaccinate their children, exposed them to life-threatening diseases such as measles.

“It won’t be easy to be your own editor, it won’t be easy to critically evaluate all the information that comes your way.

“But being too accepting of false information divides societies and empowers those who wish to weaken, if not destroy, the process of effective debate,” he said.

On the role of parents and educators in tackling fake news, Prof Farnsworth said it was important for them to identify and then speak out against fake news.

“If you see fake news, you critique it in the classroom and at home. It can be a mechanism to make people less susceptible to fake news because they approach everything with a more critical, sceptical eye and then maybe fake news will lose its power and visibility,” he added.

He said letting the responsibility of fighting falsities fall squarely on the shoulders of the government and private sector was not feasible.

Free societies would be lost once the government determined what could be penned or otherwise, he said.

“And for-profit companies, I don’t think you’ll get anything from them. They might make things marginally better, they have business reasons to do so but to imagine they are going to fact- check everything posted online on Twitter or Instagram, that is not going to happen,” he pointed out.

The professor summed things up this way: “If you don’t take this sort of thing seriously then expect more fake news. The nature of evil or fraud is that it trumps if honest people don’t do anything.”


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