Hit fake news sites where it hurts

The problem of fake news sites and the spread of misinformation and disinformation have escalated ("Obama hits out at spread of fake news"; Nov 19).

Even though sites such as Facebook and Google can and should stem the dissemination of fake stories by targeting their online sources of revenue, the onus is also on individuals to be cognisant of these financial streams, to spot signs of fabricated content, and to therefore not click on or share such content.

Deciding how to censor or remove offensive content on social media sites or search engines may not be as straightforward, because opportunists will work to get around new algorithms. But surely a line can be drawn when it comes to links, pages or sites with no factual basis whatsoever.

Besides shutting these pages or sites down, cutting off advertising revenue will hit their administrators where it hurts, and stem the unhealthy flow of misinformation and disinformation.

Singapore, too, has not been immune to this phenomenon and, along this tangent, mainstream news providers must resist temptations to sensationalise.

In the long term, however, the ability of individuals to discern between fact and fiction matters.

Facebook chief executive and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, in the aftermath of the United States presidential election, wrote that "more than 99 per cent of what people see (on Facebook) is authentic".

Yet on a site where active users generate hundreds of millions of posts every day, the amount of fake content remains quite substantial.

Given the challenges mentioned, media literacy can go a long way.

Understanding how bogus news stories shape the present media landscape is a good start, and should even prompt further discourse about the online "filter bubbles" and the ramifications of these "echo chambers".

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Hit fake news sites where it hurts'. Print Edition | Subscribe