Home Insider Insider Review Strategies to Combat Fake News

Strategies to Combat Fake News

Social media in Myanmar i.e., Facebook, is filled with a lot of now-a-days. Fake news attacking Tatmataw (Myanmar Armed Forces) and the government received thousands of likes and hundreds of shares, regardless of the anonymity of the original poster or the authenticity of the news. True news pages get little following or get laughed at or worse, users filed reports to FB to ban the true news page e.g., Tatmataw news centre, MRTV, Myawaddy news, etc.

May be it has to do with the low education level of general public for not being able to differentiate fake news, or may be it is FB algorithms who favour more additive and excitable content, or may be its in the nature of the people to be more interested in controversial and slanderous fake stories. Whatever the reasons may be, fake news has become predominant part of Myanmar society and unless something is done to stem the tide of fake news, the society may disintegrate through hatred and Myanmar may not see any heydays for years to come.

So what can the government do to stop fake news? There is no magic portion for us, unfortunately. Yet taking a concerted action of each suggestion may end up creating synergies all around, to eventually mitigate the spread of false news on the FB. MI compiled a list of possible actions that can be taken by the government sicking tired of fake news to draw a line to say, enough is enough!

At the base line level, the government has to realise that it cannot win the eyeball fight with fake news. Anti government or NNPC terrorists fake news page may get millions of like yet the government news channel or Ministry of Information (MOI) may have less than a thousand. The government also has to realise that defensive and micro management of fake news is not possible. You will never win a war by being defensive. The government may not have sufficient resources or be fast enough to respond to every single fake news story. It cannot set up a true news story page to counter fake news in a timely manner either. All these would not win the war against fake news. The government has to realise that whatever that has been done so far, has not produced results. Fake news are still spreading like wild fire. Last but not least, the government has to understand the extra jurisdictional nature of fake news creators. Most of them are stationed overseas outside the reach of Myanmar law enforcement agencies.

With these baseline understandings in mind, here are the NINE steps government can take to counter the spread of fake news:

I. Responsible

There has to be continuing education given to journalists by MOI or Myanmar Press Council (MPC). There has to be Continuing Journalism Education (CJE) requirements on ethics and current affairs for journalists, writers and (social/political) influencers, akin to Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements for doctors and certified public accountants.

The MOI or MPC or together must publish a black list of writers, for those who spread or create fake news for more than two times, perhaps in a year.

To encourage positive contribution towards society by journalists, we can have a ‘Responsible Journalism Award’ for those who fight for the truth and against the fake news in a big way.

II. Register and Writers’ Accountability

In order to do the above I, we need a journalist register, to account for proper writers and journalists. These registered individuals would be differentiated from ghost writers with the fake accounts, whose sole intent was to spread the fake news.

Non registered writers would have no journalistic protection whatsoever under Myanmar Media Law. Unless they register, there would be no intervention offered by MPC in case of complaints, arrests or law suits.

III. Research and Education

We need to continue to educate consumers on digital literacy through educational videos and publications. E.g.,  we need to teach consumers and readers how to spot the fake news and how not to fall victim to the fake news. We need to teach the public how to fact check news and fake images posted. Consumers must also know the consequences of spreading fake news and how not to become a party to igniting hatred.

IV. Liability for Fake News Creators and Spreaders

For non registered writers and influencers who spread fake news, immediate jail term without bail mandatory. Registered journalists should be handled by MPC or MOI blacklist system.

V. Engagement with Platforms

Facebook is the sole vehicle for the spread of fake news in Myanmar. In fact, it is the culprit. It pushes up news that would ignite anger or hatred to the top. It gives out ‘blue ticks’ to known NNPC terrorists, in fact. FB prioritises content that would get clicks and hang time. Fake news thrive in that FB algorithm.

MOI or MPC must engage FB directly. FB may say it is the freedom of speech, but the government also have the freedom of action, to stop Myanmar companies and online shops to stop advertising on the FB. Only that action would give the government balance of power over FB. Any plan to target FB must include an action on Myanmar advertisers on FB. For the record, even though FB received millions of dollars every month in advertising fees from Myanmar companies, it did not pay any commercial taxes until 2019. Until now, it has not pay any income taxes to Myanmar government. This has to stop!

The government must also enforce anti-competition law. Myanmar has anti-competition law to prevent monopolies, yet FB has been a monopoly in the social media space for so many years. The government must act!

VI. Engagement with Foreign News Organisations in Myanmar

This refers to regular dialogues with foreign media within Myanmar, such as BBC, VOA, RFA, etc. They are sometimes guilty of spreading the fake news and they are definitely guilty of bias against the government. MPC or MOI must engage them at least every quarter, to point them out on their infringements and revote their licenses, if needed.

VII. Regular Press Conferences

MPC and MOI must hold regular press conferences to update the public of actions being taken on fake news to gain public confidence in their abilities. The conference could also highlight their actions for the month or the quarter, as well as achievements.

VIII. Fake News Compilation Monitor

Both organisations could do a monthly fake news compilation monitor as a service to public to highlight actual cases of fake news being farm out via social media every month. The publication has to be boosted on the internet as well as on social media.

IX. Actions on Cases of Fake News Creators and Spreaders

These has to publication of specific actions taken against the spreaders and creators of fake news, so that there would be deterrence against committing future offences. The blacklist of the journalists should also be publicised together with warnings given during a particular period. Each of these actions may not single handedly weed out the fake news, but doing all together would definitely achieve some of the government and the nation’s objectives to the fake news.