Educated minds to fight back fake news

WPFD 2017 Parallel Session 2: "Media and Information Literacy as a Bulwark Against Hate Speech, Misinformation and Polarization Online - What Good Practices Exist?" on May 3, 2017 (Photo by: Omar Benabdelaziz / VOM)

The so called fake or false news has been a frequently discussed topic recently. The phenomenon should be perceived as a threat to society.

Last November, the world was following the US presidential elections holding its breath. Against the general odds, Donald Trump won the run to the office. After the elections, many have been speculated how much fake news on social media had influence on the result.

Still defining a fake or false news is not piece of cake. Teenagers may call each other “you are such a fake news”, but more commonly the term fake news refers to untrustworthy piece of inaccurate of information.

“The beauty is in the eyes of the holder,” Barbora Bukovská pointed out the difficulties to define the term to at the World Press Freedom Day 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Many fake news are driven by financial benefit, but the motivator can also be for example rasistical. To sum it up, fake news endangers demographic society in a whole, including its values such as freedom of speech.

Even though fake news is not a new phenomenon, the new forms of media have changed the game.  Data from PewResearch in 2016 shows that in United States six out of ten persons get their news from social media platforms.

In Finland, according to Statistics Finland, the internet has reached 88 percent of the population, especially young people aged between 16-24 who use internet multiple times a day. The same study reveals that their most common use of internet is to find information and communicate.

Finnish public service broadcasting company Yle wrote recently that many news platforms have been leaving their traditional “jokes” on April’s Fool’s Day because many of their audience are struggling to notice the difference between real and fake news in everyday basis. They hardly notice the difference between them because many tend to only see the main picture of the article, the headline and the first line of the story’s lead, and the web address where the story is located. 

This does not exclusively happen in few countries but have become global phenomenon. But what this means to trustworthy media and how it can fight back?

In addition to more accurate media coverage in the digital age, other actors are needed to fight against fake news. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Advocacy Advisor Sophie Busson reminds that laws to ban fake news might make those in power even stronger – at the expense of freedom of speech and plural societies.

“Fake news (and the planned laws) are used against freedom of speech. For example Russian authorities are planning to prohibit all content that comes from false information. But that’s politicians own version of events,” Sophie explains at the conference.

Even though false news are complicated, trustworthy media has ways to challenge them. For example First Draft News gives hope to the future with a ways to deal with complicated topic.

Media should also hold up ethics to maintain credibility which makes them different from the fake news producers.

Veera Pennanen


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