Curbing fake news: If in doubt, don't send it out

If we do not know the truth, how do we recognise it when we see it?

This philosophical paradox underscores our dilemma in grappling with fake news, which is being spread with increasing frequency (Govt reviews how to tackle fake news; April 4).

The truth is, we often do not know for sure and have to trust the information source or its intermediary, which may be an organisation or an individual.

It is also true that fake news is not new.

What is new is the ease with which anyone with a computer or smartphone can spread falsehoods through social media, unwittingly or otherwise.

Traditional media outlets follow strict editorial policies and practise stringent editing, including fact-checking, before publication or broadcast.

It has taken years for them to earn the trust of readers or viewers, who expect them to publish or broadcast truthful news and reports.

On the other hand, social media users may unilaterally take it upon themselves to publicise what they deem to be of public interest.

Everyone has opinions. Unfortunately, not everyone has the facts.

As individuals, we often receive messages and videos forwarded by well-intentioned people, but many of these may not be real or based on verifiable facts.

Discretion and discernment may not be enough to separate fact from fiction, so it would be wise to adopt this precept: If in doubt, don't send it out.

Joachim Sim Khim Huang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Curbing fake news: If in doubt, don't send it out'. Print Edition | Subscribe