Fake news haunts news business in Pakistan
Feedback, fact-checking can curb the spread of fake news, say speakers at LLF
Fatima Rehman| September 23, 2019
KARACHI:In Pakistan, fake news is as effective as original news, said one of the panellists during a session, titled 'How fake news affects society?', on the second day of the Lyari Literature Festival (LLF), at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University, Lyari. The panel discussion was moderated by Naseer Goopang, founder of LLF and a journalist associated with a regional TV channel.
The panel comprised journalists Dr Tauseef Ahmed, Dr Irfan Aziz and Iqbal Khursheed as well as the former president of Youth Parliament, Talha Anwer. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Ahmed elaborated on how fake news was not a consequence of the growing use of social media, but dated back to the time of the cold war. Referring to the recent Ghotki incident, he shed light on how fake news can cause havoc. "In the age of fifth-generation warfare, social media is a battleground for most of us," he said, adding that people don't realise that their posts on social media can evoke instant reactions. He also spoke about political and business rivalries in Pakistan, which, he said, not only lead to the rapid spread of fake news but also create an impression that news is a result of agenda-setting.
President Alvi calls for curbing fake news Khursheed said that intense competition among news outlets is the primary cause of the spread of misinformation. "Most of the times, competing to be the first one to deliver news results in compromising on the credibility of the news," he said. He also pointed out that it often happens that satire is misinterpreted as actual news. "We don't understand satire easily," he said. He also shared a quote, which he said is falsely attributed to Mark Twain. Citing it, Khursheed said, "Let others lie wantonly, gratuitously, if they will, but let you and me make it the rule of our life to lie for revenue only. A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." Following it, he asked, "Who says detecting fake news is easy in this world?" Adding to the discussion, Dr Aziz said that fake news spreads rapidly in Pakistan because people don't raise questions on news, especially if it is published in a newspaper. He said that besides journalists, news consumers should also act wisely when sharing news. "People undermine their power of sharing news. Every drop matters in this pool of misinformation," he said. "It's high time we stop putting the entire blame for the outburst of fake news on the media. In the current era, consumers are equally responsible for filtering news", Aziz said. Responding to a question about fact-checking to curtail the spread of fake news, Anwer stressed on the importance of delivering accurate news and the need for journalists to realise that they carry a heavy responsibility on their shoulders. "Journalists build narratives," he said. While concluding the session, panellists spoke about the measures that can help in filtering news. They suggested that journalists should be trained for dealing with misinformation and said that feedback and retaliation against misinformation can curb the spread of fake news.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2019.
Pakistan's fake news problem is hurting journalism
Waqar Mustafa (Media Track)
Last updated on January 19, 2020 at 10.29 pm
Last week, celebrated Pakistani comedian Amanullah's daughter tweeted a picture of her ailing father lying on a hospital bed, and asked netizens to pray for his early recovery.
Following the post, rumours went abuzz about the actor's death. A number of social media sites published it too without checking the facts. His daughter Zergoon eventually had to post a video to dispel rumours. "People should at least confirm before posting such fake news and causing pain and heartbreak to the family," she said.
She was only a tweet away and yet nobody bothered to check with her before publishing fake news about her father's death.
In a recent survey, journalists identified social media as the hotbed of false information, noting that the increasing crisis of confidence in journalism is fuelling the rise of fake news.
Titled Sifting truth from lies in the age of fake news, the study examines the extent of fact-checking practised in Pakistan's newsrooms. Based on the experiences of 152 journalists and activists, who participated in the survey conducted by the Digital Rights Foundation, the report found that more than 88 per cent respondents identified social media platforms as the least worthy source of information, WhatsApp topping among them. Facebook-owned WhatsApp allows users to send text messages and voice messages, make voice and video calls, and share images and documents and other social media platforms. On its own, the social media platform has run media campaigns for public awareness asking consumers to act wisely when sharing news.
The report found that journalists are not comfortable using the term 'fake news' to describe news that is not true as it has increasingly been used in Twitter campaigns for partisan propaganda and discrediting credible journalism. It also found that politically contentious topics and censorship encouraged the spread of falsehoods online. Frequent accusations of 'fake news' have led to an increase in interest in fact-checking in newsrooms. Fake news spread on Twitter via seemingly fake, hyper-nationalist accounts.
It also highlighted the severe dearth of media literacy training in Pakistan. According to Ramsha Jahangir, the author of the study, "Old images, videos are packaged as new, doctored screenshots of tickers go viral and anything with a kernel of truth is used out of context." This is not 'fake news'. We are all victims of information disorder," she says.
Digital Rights Foundation Executive Director Nighat Dad sees a complex set of deep-rooted ideological, cultural and political issues impacting the 'fake news' phenomenon in the digital platforms, which demonstrates that this isn't just a tech or media literacy problem, but one that needs to be examined from a socio-psychological perspective. Lack of awareness among the public and journalists is an impediment to fighting 'fake news' on digital platforms.
The problem gets more acute when print and electronic media buys into whatever is on the social media without any verification. 'Fake news' spreads rapidly because people don't raise questions on news, especially if it is published in a newspaper.
Coalition for Women in Journalism Global Coordinator Luavut Zahid says: "Clickbait travels faster and lives longer."
"We have seen examples of hoaxes or misinformation spreading like wildfire but clarifications don't see the same kind of popularity. This is why it's important to verify news before it is released. Journalists are gatekeepers who stop bad information, so there's no excuse for being the catalyst that allows it to spread," she said.
"The race towards breaking news first has resulted in many releasing information before it has been confirmed. This is just bad journalism," she said. "Don't chase breaking news, chase good journalism," she said.
Back to basics, the established values of our craft. The first core principle of journalism we studied is truth and accuracy. We should always strive for accuracy, give the relevant facts and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information, we should say so. If journalists - social, print, digital, electronic - fail to properly verify news they can lead themselves, and their organisations, into disaster.
Waqar Mustafa is a Pakistan-based journalist and commentator.