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Scourge of fake news sites

We live in a fast-changing world where information can spread like wildfire, so the impact of fake news sites should not be underestimated ("When reality bites in a 'post-truth' world"; Nov 27).

It is essential for lawmakers to confront this phenomenon and regulate it, as such sites can manipulate public opinion and, in United States President-elect Donald Trump's case, influence an election.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is right to be concerned about so-called "social bots" affecting next year's election campaign ("Social bots become priority on Merkel's campaign agenda"; Nov 27).

In any election, there will be a percentage of voters who are undecided. These people tend to change their minds often and will wait until the last minute to make a final decision. Some will be influenced by misinformation and disinformation.

If such sites are not curbed, people looking for news online will be taken in by inaccurate headlines, which may eventually seep into genuine news sites as well. As a result, the credibility of mainstream media will be diminished. Readers will not be able to distinguish the truth from falsehoods, and confusion will reign.

People seldom bother to do fact-checking because such news is designed to be appealing. And they will be even less inclined to do so if it aligns with their opinions.

I am not sure having Google and Facebook ban these sites or target their sources of revenue will have much of an effect. The people behind these sites will likely soon adapt.

The tech companies must exercise caution when modifying filter bubbles because if not done right, it may backfire.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 04, 2016, with the headline 'Scourge of fake news sites'. Print Edition | Subscribe