How fake news stifles democracy in Asia

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Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler news service based out of the Philippines, is an advocate for targeting fake news. Ressa has spoken out on numerous occasions about her experiences of government attempts to silence her through initiating court cases, and offered social network analysis revealing how fake news spread about her and Rappler with the help of Facebook.

Phones and tablets fly, some say 'news' and some say 'fake'. Man grabs for one that says 'news'. Chris Johnston cartoonShe refers to this 'global phenomenon' as including 'patriotic trolling', which she described on ABC Radio as 'using online state-sponsored hate to silence dissent and attack critics', the flooding of fake news and disinformation, as well as the specific targeting of women. Ressa says that in the Philippines, they are fighting the impunity of both the government and Facebook itself, though she went on to say that 'Rappler could not have grown without Facebook'.

India has recently seen fake news spark a series of lynchings. Another encounter with disinformation occurred when a Chhattisgarh farmer said her income had doubled in a teleconference with Prime Minister Modi. Subsequently, she spoke to ABP News saying she was coached and that the daily income of 700 INR (AUD $14) was in fact shared among the members of her self-help group.  This was followed by news reports that claimed the ABP report was fake news.

Subsequent to this, the farmer would not speak to media, reportedly due to local pressure from Modi's BJP party. Just a couple of weeks later, the ABP anchor who broke the story, Punya Prasun Bajpai resigned, along with managing editor Milind Khandekar.

Further, social media is being used to spread disinformation such as that 95 per cent of rapes in India are committed by Muslim men, and to share violent videos of mob lynchings. This may be parallel to what Ressa describes: 'What we've seen is that hate has been used to pound the fracture lines in the Philippines and to target anyone who asks difficult questions, and that's helped to create this spiral of silence that has had an incredibly negative impact on our democracy.'

Jonathan Green raised in his article earlier this year the complicity of the press in the rise of political trolls, and Binoy Kampmark raised concerns about government control of modern communication platforms in his article in 2017. With the number of internet users expected to reach 500 million by June of this year, Twitter-registered users at 76 per cent of total internet users in 2017, 201 million active Facebook users and 200 million WhatsApp users in India alone, the accountability of such platforms needs consideration.

At The Media Rumble recently, Ressa referred to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's statements in Congress, where he said it will take three years to fix fake news. Her response was 'We don't have three years.'

 

"If the Philippines was Patient Zero in the global war against disinformation, greater social media platform accountability and technology that can help monitor and alert the spread of fake news are essential across the globe."

 

Ressa has spoken to numerous Facebook officials, and while their focus is on the United States and the west based on economic interests, regions like South-East Asia, where the institutions are extremely weak, need attention.

UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye, in an interview with Rappler in May, raised his concerns about the abilities of such platforms to understand the sociopolitical intricacies of domestic contexts outside of the United States without giving significant resources. The recent House of Commons Report on disinformation contained some concerning findings and recommended that 'Digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of education alongside reading, writing and maths.'

Alex Jones and site InfoWars, known for spreading right-wing fake news were recently banned by Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify. However, Twitter did not impose a ban as their accounts do not violate the social media platform's rules. Kaye articulated this vexed question that defines the human rights standard: 'When does hatred cross the line of being merely expression to something that's inciting hostility or violence against an individual?'

The examples he provided are those of the spread of hate speech about Rohingyas in Myanmar, as well as the possibility of misogynistic and rape threats against female journalists. He argued that social media platforms should be transparent and provide examples of what they do and don't classify as hate speech that can became 'a sort-of case law'.

At The Media Rumble, Ressa spoke of a platform being used in the Philippines that recognises if a particular post is going viral, can fact check it and send a fake news notification to Facebook who can then suppress the algorithm. Perhaps a technology start-up like Logically will assist in India. While WhatsApp in India has recently introduced a limit of forwarding messages to five chats, it remains to be seen how fake news will impact the 2019 national election and beyond.

If the Philippines was Patient Zero in the global war against disinformation, greater social media platform accountability and technology that can help monitor and alert the spread of fake news are essential across the globe.

 

 

Lika Posamari is an Australian of northern European settler ancestry leading a fairly nomadic life in which she writes in English and Spanish. Her writings have appeared in Westerly, The Red Corner, Kitaab, Clot, Rabbit and Big Art. She tweets @LikaPosamari and blogs here.

Topic tags: Lika Posamari, India, Philippines, fake news

 

 

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Lika Posamari has raised an important issue in her article about fake news which is obviously not just a problem for Asians. During the time of the US aggression against Indochina, many media sources carried the lies and distortions of the US politicians responsible for this crime against humanity. After the CIA assisted the Indonesian military (TNI) to install the bloody Suharto regime in that country, again media sources hid information about the mass killings and sickening crimes against humanity. This was also to continue during the TNI crimes in West Papua, East Timor, Acheh and parts of Indonesia itself. How can we forget the totally unnecessary war in Iraq started by George Bush Jr dishonestly claiming "weapons of mass destruction"(deception?). Currently, many media outlets are covering up implications of the policies of the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in allowing murder and terror under the guise of battling drug problems. Many media sources have also sought to hide the crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli "Defence" Force against Palestinians and peoples in other neighbouring countries. For many years, we thought that the ABC and SBS were free of fake news - the reason why they have been under attack from conservative governments. However, on the issue of Trump's 2018 strike against Syria, both carried US propaganda on their radio and TV news services. Their on line reports tended to have more real news, however. To avoid fake news, already many progressive people are rejecting mainstream newspapers and radio and TV news services and getting their news from alternative sources on line.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 27 August 2018


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