Develop a critical mind to combat fake news

In the recent debate in Parliament on the topic of fake news, the question of where to draw the line between online falsehoods and freedom of expression was raised.

These are two different areas. Fake news refers to facts which can be objectively checked, like whether "halal pork" was really sold in FairPrice supermarkets in 2007.

Freedom of expression, on the other hand, refers to a subjective opinion, like whether increasing the legal smoking age would really curb smoking among youth.

Sometimes, the two may seem to overlap but it may be possible to distinguish between the two.

With that in mind, it should be possible to create a law against fake news without endangering freedom of expression, as they appear to be separate.

However, a new law will not solve the propagation of fake news. The real weapon against fake news lies in people's mindsets. People should not swallow everything they read or hear. We should all develop an ability to assess any piece information by comparing several independent sources and, above all, exercising our judgment.

Unfortunately, new technologies do not encourage such behaviour.

People are bombarded with information all day long and no longer have time to think for themselves.

Social networking sites gather people of the same kind, leaving little room for interaction with people who may think differently.

Newspapers, which probably remain one of the most reliable forms of media, are read less.

The education system should teach children how to control their use of mobile devices and develop a critical mind.

Jean-Michel Bardin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Develop a critical mind to combat fake news'. Print Edition | Subscribe