How do we combat fake news as a Nation?
The phrase ‘Fake News’ might be relatively new but the idea of disinformation has been in existence probably since man began to communicate. What exactly is fake news?
Simply put, Fake news or disinformation is the spread or dissemination of falsified information with the intent of misguiding or discrediting a person or entity (the receiver of such news). Disinformation can be in the form of a misleading context, false content, sensational headlines with mismatching content. The types include
- Biased/slanted news
If we are still thinking that fake news is not so bad, remember what it did to the greatest romance in literature – Romeo and Juliet? We’ve come a long way from when the story of Romeo and Juliet was written. Much worse damage has been done in society with wrong information. Misinformation has resulted in the collapse of certain democracies, attacks on certain ethnic groups and over the years, the spread of information has become quite easy as the years roll by. More recently, the internet has changed the dynamics of the dissemination of information. We see this ugly trend wind its way into every aspect of society’s interaction – Economy, Politics, Social etc.
To combat these trends, I recently spoke at a conference on how to combat Disinformation and Misinformation and I outlined 5 ways disinformation can be effectively stamped out. In coming up with these 5 ways, I put into consideration the ‘why’ of fake news.
Misinformation is a product of technology and human behavior and like I always say, ‘if technology was the weapon used in creating the problem, technology should be used in solving it’ without undermining the benefits of digital media.
Disinformation and Misinformation in its very nature occur frequently when there is an increase in activity of importance in the public. For example, we find that during elections, the frequency at which information spreads is quite high compared to off election seasons.
To spread fake news across social media outlets, there is a tendency that BOTs are used as sources of disinformation. BOTs, short for Robots, are accounts designed with certain programs to interact with other social media users like they are human. In cases where BOTS are used in disseminating false information, AI will have to be used in countering it. This will involve using various models of technology and algorithms that can understand the unique languages used by BOTs.
Of course, for this to be effective, we require the cooperation and collaboration of technology companies, government, and the people.
- Improvement in digital security
Key to this is enhancing anti disinformation technologies. The level of connectivity in our world today is unprecedented. The general public and by extension, the government need to be more involved in social issues, thereby making it easy to identify falsified reports. One may ask if this is even achievable considering the complexity of the categories of ‘Fake news’. To answer this, I would just draw our minds back to the onset of emails and the resulting spam mails we frequently received. To battle unwanted emails, a lot of investment went into creating and constantly improving on the technology to filter the desirable from the undesirable content. Same principles apply here, in order for technology to play its role in the fight against disinformation; it must continuously be updated and improved to identify sources, trends and formats of disinformation in news content.
- Sensitization of People
While technology can be used to tackle fake news, the consumers, SM users and people like myself and you have a HUGE role to play in fighting the dispersion of false information. There are different ways to do this,
- Through formal education, kids can be taught in schools about the importance of validating every information they receive and the ways they can do this.
- Companies can adopt sensitization of the society on the cons of spreading false information and how they can fight it.
- Consumers should avoid the news sources or agents that continue to spread information that is not valid.
- Rating system for media houses
Close to the above is the rating system for media outlets. It is important that media houses are rated by the general public and NOT just a select group, on certain key indices like the quality of news they put out there, timing, sources, and content of information. The rating system could work in the same manner as we have with the Uber system where a driver is rated at the end of each ride. At the end of a period, say 6 months to a year, the data from the general public is collected and made available to the citizens. Without a doubt, the media houses will go above and beyond to deliver information that is accurate to avoid being rated poorly.
Another angle would be to demand that companies who sustain these outlets through sponsorship and advertising require the media outlets to undergo an integrity test or risk having their support withdrawn.
- Social Credit Systems
Now, before you balk at the thought of a ‘punish and reward’ system, let’s consider its benefits in societies where it has actually or is actually working and maybe adopt the processes that make it work in these societies while developing the processes that seem to be negative.
China’s Social credit system works in such a way that it rewards its citizens for good behavior by providing a discount on purchases or payments while it also punishes citizens for bad behavior by restricting access to loans or air travel. Not to go too much into it, but the system has worked in such a way that the people and businesses in China are careful to do what is right to avoid losing points.
Now apply that same technique to news reporting in Nigeria and we will have media houses, sources of information that will sit up to avoid losing their reputation etc.