Call to empower citizens to combat fake news

Panellist speaking at the "Keep it Real: Truth and Trust in the Media" forum.
Panellist speaking at the "Keep it Real: Truth and Trust in the Media" forum. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

In the eastern European nation of Lithuania, ordinary citizens have banded together to counter propaganda from its former Soviet master, Russia.

Calling themselves "elves", they take on the Internet trolls who spread hate or misinformation to destabilise the Baltic state. They do it by patrolling social media to expose fake accounts on Facebook or Skype, or writing articles to correct the inaccuracies that float in cyberspace.

Ms Nejolla Korris, who heads InterVeritas International, which specialises in social-engineering awareness and lie-detection training, related the anecdote yesterday to make her point that citizens need to be better included in the fight against fake news. "Misinformation cannot be battled with just an algorithm," she said.

Social media platforms have to respond to citizen reports more quickly, she added, citing her personal experience of having to send several e-mails - including to a high-level Facebook executive - and waiting for a number of weeks before a fake profile featuring a photo of her deceased brother was removed.

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Delivering quicker responses more often would reduce the number of fake news sites, she added.

"The more social platforms allow participants to engage and report fake news, the more opportunities exist to combat misinformation," she said.

It is one way to make people be more careful about what they share online. "Everybody loves to be a detective," she added.

Ms Korris was speaking on how to empower citizens to combat misinformation, at a forum organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

A fellow panellist, The Straits Times' associate opinion editor Lydia Lim, said journalists, too, can help people understand good media values like those practised in traditional media. "We don't want to just be first with the news, but also fair and accurate," she said. "These are values that aren't discussed much, and our readers may not even be aware that that is how we do things."

Ms Anne Kruger, a journalism lecturer at Hong Kong University, suggested that media literacy classes be made mandatory, so that children, who are exposed to online resources and social media at an increasingly young age, are armed with the skills to verify what is true or not true.

What may be more challenging is helping older folk, who may not be as savvy digitally, and are often the group most guilty of sharing unverified information on social platforms, said Mr Lock Wai Han, who chairs Singapore's Media Literacy Council.

While his council is working with the Info-communications Media Development Authority to hold educational roadshows at public housing estates, he also urged patience: "We need to take it one step at a time."

Another panel discussed the role of tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, in improving the digital news ecosystem.

The forum continues today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'Call to empower citizens to combat fake news'. Print Edition | Subscribe