Right now, you’re online, reading what you chose you wanted to read. You have the liberty of leaving a comment on platforms, even if it’s a bad one. You’re lucky because in some countries, people can’t enjoy freedom of speech. Sometimes, the situation is even worse and browsing the web comes with certain restrictions such as geo-blocking.
A recent case of blocked service occurred at the beginning of April when Russia banned Telegram.
However, in the last years, we have witnessed several similar cases that are first of all, a threat to our basic human rights.
Join us in taking a moment to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. Here’s why we believe it’s an important and timely reminder for all of us.
- EU’s plan on creating an anti-fake news law
- Fake news vs. real news
- 5 stories that uncovered some of the world’s deepest secrets
- Simple ways to spot fake news
- The need for “identifying fake news” educational programs
But what exactly is the meaning of freedom of expression today, when we have all been heavily bombarded with fake news through all media channels?
As Reporters Without Borders warned, freedom of press has never been more threatened as it is today, especially in the context of the election of US President Donald Trump and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
No need to say that fake news has become a global issue. That is why several organizations have started to launch special programs to combat and ideally, put an end to fake news era. For instance, recently, the EU has decided to implement a law in this sense.
Why the need for an anti-fake news law?
According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, 83% of Europe’s population believe fake news are a threat to democracy. Another conclusion of the survey was that elections and anything related to politics is the main subject in which fake news have the largest influence and they can create great prejudice on society.
These results reveal the need of quality media sources.
EU wants to set a code of practice for all online news outlets, publications and social media platforms. The main focuses of the code of practice:
- the transparency standard: a clear explanation on the algorithms of how a media outlet selects which news they publish.
- the need for media to implement effective measures to improve the visibility of accurate and real news and facilitate users’ access to this news.
Fake news can actually destroys someone’s credibility. If their arguments are built on bad information, it will be much more difficult for people to believe them in the future. This is why we need the anti #fakenews law. @AzalinaOthmanS pic.twitter.com/VrutcvZeag
— Khairul Izzad (@IzzadHisham) April 14, 2018
Fake news vs. painfully true revelations
Fake news creators and those that willingly spread fake news (knowing they are indeed fake) clearly want to manipulate and misinform. This is the negative side of press today.
But some of the best and bravest journalists have dared to tell the truth or help others come forward to uncover sensitive secrets.
“A free press provides a window through which all other abuses of fundamental rights can be revealed.”
Here are 5 examples of stories that uncovered important news or information with a huge worldwide impact.
Example no.1 – Wikileaks project
WikiLeaks is probably one of the most audacious schemes in the journalist world. Founded by Julian Assange, WikiLeaks publishes secret and classified information from all over the world. WikiLeaks is meant
“to bring important news and information to the public… One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.”
Check some of the most famous events revealed by WikiLeaks.
Example no. 2 – Panama Papers
In 2015, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung exposed the Panama Papers business. Panama Papers gathered 11.5m files from the database of the biggest offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. The whole story went viral since it divulged the names of many national leaders worldwide with offshore wealth.
Example no. 3 – Snowden revelations
Probably the trigger moment when more people worldwide started to realize that our privacy is harshly violated. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed NSA’s secret: how they collect piles of personal information on millions of Americans, such as phone records and emails.
Part of his statement:
“…I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.”
Example no.4 – The Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal
Christopher Wylie exposed the details of Cambridge Analytica to The Guardian.
“It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with an entire country, the psychology of an entire country without their consent or awareness…you are playing with the psychology of a nation in the context of the democratic process. Cambridge Analytica is a full service propaganda machine.”
Example no.5 – Data scientist tells the truth about Google
American data scientist Seth Stephens‑Davidowitz uncovered how Google, the biggest search engine tracks every move you make in the online world. Basically, Google knows more about you than your family or your best friends do.
Here is what Stephens-Davidowitz says in his book Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are:
“Google was invented so that people could learn about the world, not so researchers could learn about people, but it turns out the trails we leave as we seek knowledge on the internet are tremendously revealing.
I have spent the past four years analyzing anonymous Google data. The revelations have kept coming. Mental illness, human sexuality, abortion, religion, health. Not exactly small topics, and this dataset, which didn’t exist a couple of decades ago, offered surprising new perspectives on all of them. I am now convinced that Google searches are the most important dataset ever collected on the human psyche.”
So, finding out true stories, facts that could have the effect of a wake-up call were also possible with the help of journalists and writers.
These are the kind of press stories we should be grateful for.
Fake news are a real threat. Check this TED Talk that reveals more real-life examples.
How you can identify fake news
The continuous spread of fake news is not a lost battle. First, you can educate yourself to identify them. You’ll become better informed and thus, be able to distinguish real from fabricated. That is a great and useful asset for anyone.
Essential elements you should look out for:
- Check the news source
You can trust media outlets that have a long and good reputation in publishing news that are based on verified sources. A few examples are The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Of course, these are not the only ones, but with practice and a little detective work, you’ll know which media company you can trust or not.
2. Check the author of the news/article
Real and trustworthy journalists have a good reputation in terms of telling the truth and most have an extensive experience. You can do a quick check on the writer of the article and you’ll get an idea if what the author wrote is real or not.
3. Investigate photos in the article
Articles always have a picture attached that normally should reflect the highlight of the story. But a picture could be just as fake as the article.
You can do a small investigation: right click on the image and tell Google to search for it. You might discover that the image was used in the past as well to backup different stories. Elements in the image could be different or could be changed.
Read more tips on how to identify fake news.
Educational programs in spotting fake news
Educating yourself is the first step. But you shouldn’t stop here. Tell everyone around you the easy methods by which they can post fake news.
Several education specialists, (mostly in the U.S.) have already started special programs dedicated in training students how to tackle false information in general.
Education specialists believe training students how to pinpoint fake news as well as fake websites should be a priority. In the U.S., many education programs that have set this exact same goal have already been launched.
Donald Barclay (Deputy University Librarian at University of California)
“First of all, fake news is nothing new. In such forms as propaganda, fake news has been around for thousands of years and probably pre-dates writing. What is new in the digital age are the following:
- The extremely low cost of creating and widely distributing digital information.
- The wide availability tools for creating fake information, including software for manipulating text, images, and sound.
- The sheer amount of information—including fake news—that the average person must negotiate in the digital age.”
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England:
“Children need the skills to prepare them for the digital world they inhabit which includes digital citizenship classes in schools. We also need to see responsible behavior from the digital industry.”
As a general rule, the young generation should be very careful when reading articles that have these phrases in headlines:
- “you won’t believe what happens next”
- “does not want you to know”
- “will make you cry”
- “see before you die”
Students should also question a website that seems to be too funny, too positive, too terrifying or too exploitative.
Fighting fake news is a share battle
The fight against misinformation probably has a long way to go. What’s important is to not give up and hope “fake news” will simple become an ugly flash back of 2016-2018. Governments, companies and schools have started to make the first steps against it, which is a good sign.
However, since “sharing is caring”, we don’t have to sit and wait for good things to happen. Every time you see, read or hear a fake news or misinformation, report it! Here are basic tips on how to report fake news on the most popular websites and social platforms.
Feel free to also share with us any situation that invades or deprives you or other people from freedom of speech, privacy or any other important right.