Wishart: Fake news causing an ‘erosion of trust’ in media

The phenomenon of so-called “fake news,” which is disseminated mainly via social networks, is causing an “erosion of trust in the media,” according to Eric Wishart, former editor-in-chief of the international news agency Agence France- Presse (AFP) and currently a member of AFP’s global news management and special projects.

“There is a lot of discussion and a lot of studies [that point towards] an erosion of trust in the media […] I think the fact that Donald Trump and others keep coming up and [speaking about] this fake news… Sections of the population will believe them. Yes, it has a corrosive effect,” Wishart said in an interview with the Times on the sidelines of last week’s British Business Association of Macau’s (BBAM) Breakfast Business Briefings held at the St. Regis Hotel Macao, where the speaker was addressing the topics of the challenges of fake news and disinformation.

The specialist noted that besides the fact that fake news by itself can contribute to disinformation and to damage the image of some person or entity, it also contributes to a lack of confidence from the general public in media in general, “especially if [people] keep repeating over and over again [the message that the mainstream media produces fake news], it does get through.”

In Wishart’s opinion, the way to fight back and tackle that problem by the media has to do with “being much more transparent about your newsgathering” as well as to produce a clear statement of media’s guidelines and practices.

The specialist also noted that nowadays more people are interested in checking the stories on its original source. “If you write a story, people want to see the link to the original speech, to the original text. […] So coming back [to] this need to be more transparent, I don’t think is good enough to say: ‘I’m a journalist, believe what I’m saying!’ This is not good enough anymore,” he noted, reaffirming that this will be a challenge to the media, forcing it to reevaluate the “way we do our work.”

During his talk, Wishart presented several examples of what he called “real fake news” and “fake fake news” as well as drawing a clear line that separates a “bad report” or a journalistic report with mistakes from fake news that is “specifically maliciously fabricated with a clear intention to cause harm or to tarnish.”

Referring to the particular case of one of the most known advocates using the term “fake news,” the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, Wishart explained that, as alike many others across the globe and including some well-known public figures in Asia, the use of such a classification has been abused, serving to classify “all media reports that are not favorable to his or their governance.”

As advice for spotting and verifying the occurrence of “fake news reports,” the specialist left some simple and practical advice, such as: “google it,” to see who else it is reported, if at all; pay attention to the sources to see if they are reliable; check the web address (URL) carefully, as often fake news websites use web addresses that resemble reputed sources but in fact are not; and, last but not least, “don’t act on the headline,” before sharing news, read the full story, check for mistakes, inaccuracies, the misspelling of names and other signs that might indicate that the report is not to be trusted.

And above all, “before sharing, think that someone else is going to read it,” he said as advice.

Addressing the particular topic of the reports shared “by reading the headline only,” Wishart noted the cases of several Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines and Myanmar, among others, where this phenomenon has a particular significance, as, he explained, “in these countries, data, namely mobile data, is relevant and if people only read the headline without actually clicking on the news, they don’t use data,” noting that this has contributed heavily to the growth and spread of fake news in such countries.

Media literacy should be part of school curriculums

The future will bring new and more complex challenges in terms of media literacy, Eric Wishart said during his presentation at BBAM’s Breakfast Business Briefing.

According to Wishart, “the next generation of fake news will be […] fake videos. The technology is becoming sufficiently sophisticated that you can actually see a person speaking and saying things that he didn’t actually say, that’s the next dangerous step,” he noted, calling for more than fact checking or verification, noting the need of an improvement in media literacy.

“A lot of young people are getting fed up with this and I think media literacy is very important [to tackle the problem]. Media literacy is essential and must be part of school curriculums in the future if we want to avoid this [expansion of fake news],” he said, noting that this should be the “core,” because no matter how much effort companies like AFP, Google or Facebook do to try to verify and “fact check” the reports, they have no control over the creation of such content, and in this sense, the younger generations need to be taught how to spot, cross-check and verify their news on their own.

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