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Distinguishing between real and fake news

New Straits Times - 1st January 2017

ONE of the underlying themes of 2017 for branders, and even among consumers, is how to equip ourselves with the right tools to distinguish between real and fake, whether it refers to news, views or videos. There is growing debate among media experts in the world on how to deal with the rise in the creation and dissemination of fake news, which they say is posing a threat to companies, governments and society.

Thanks to social media and smartphones, cutting-edge innovation and technological advances are reaching an ominous point where what they destroy is more than the benefits they can bring. This is quite frightening. Remember the latest diplomatic incident just a few days ago? A fake news story led to threats of nuclear war between Pakistan and Israel on Christmas Eve. In an article published by AWDNews on Tuesday Dec 20, former Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon was quoted as threatening to destroy Pakistan if it sent troops into Syria. “We will destroy them with a nuclear attack,” the article quoted Yaalon as saying.

There is no evidence Yaalon ever said those words. Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif responded to the fake news article on his official Twitter as if it were real. He warned Israel that it was not the only nuclear power. “Israeli (defence minister) threatens nuclear retaliation presuming (Pakistan) role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear State too,” Asif wrote late on Dec 23. There is a rising wave of fake articles being widely shared on social media. Earlier last month, a rifle-wielding man entered a pizza restaurant in Washington, saying he wanted to investigate a fake news story that the establishment was a centre for child abduction linked to failed US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Last week, Google said it was working to refine its algorithm to weed out “non-authoritative” information after a British news report showed a Holocaust denial website was the top result when users asked “Did the Holocaust happen?” Closer to home, the Pahang executive councillor in charge of tourism was fuming mad after fake still pictures of a snapped cable car incident in Genting Highlands and old videos of Cameron Highlands flash floods went viral on Facebook recently. “As a civilised society, spreading of untruths like this should not happen, even for fun,” Datuk Seri Mohd Sharkar Shamsudin said. The Pahang government has lined up hundreds of tourism events to mark “Visit Pahang Year” this year, where it hopes to welcome five million tourists. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has called the rise of fake news a “grave problem” for Malaysia. He said in his New Year message yesterday: “I urge all Malaysians not to fall for lies that are spread.

Fake news and the proliferation of false stories have become a worldwide phenomenon, and are a grave problem in our country as well.” Under the 1984 Printing Presses and Publication Act, those found guilty of maliciously publishing any false news face a jail term not exceeding three years, or a fine not exceeding RM20,000, or both. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has been equally ineffective in going after those who spread modified, false and unverified news on social media. Under Section 211 or Section 213 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, those found guilty face a RM50,000 fine, a one-year jail sentence or both.

Again, the enforcement of both laws is lacking and very few people have been charged or convicted under the act. Rob Norman, chief digital officer of GroupM, the world’s largest media investment group with more than US$102 billion billings, recalled how James Harding, the director of news at BBC, was interviewed by Sir Martin Sorrell at a WPP event last September. “He said that he had a new stock answer for questions about future political outcomes. The answer was ‘I just don’t know’. Post-Brexit and pre-Donald Trump, who could blame him? “Much of the sharp intake of breath led people to rightly question opinion polls and to observe the danger to human sensibility of living in the fake and partisan news infused echo chambers of social (and all other) media that has pushed us all to a world of self-validating media consumption,” Norman wrote recently.

SUMMONSES AND DISCOUNTS ARE the authorities sending the wrong message by penalising the good and rewarding the bad? Kuala Lumpur City Hall, some local councils and the Road Transport Department have been offering periodic discounts on unpaid summonses for illegal parking and other offences. The discounts are intended to encourage people to pay up and settle their overdue fines.

Apparently, there were 1.2 million outstanding compounds valued at RM1.4 million owed by traffic offenders in Kuala Lumpur last year. Well, City Hall’s intention might be good. But it also puts people who pay in full, and on time, at a disadvantage. Such a practice should be put to a stop. Those who pay late should, instead, incur late charges.


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