Media Literacy Council apologises for Facebook post on satire being fake news

The Facebook post by the Media Literacy Council highlighted six types of "fake news": false context, imposter content, manipulated content, misleading content, clickbait, and satire. PHOTO: MEDIA LITERACY COUNCIL/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The Media Literacy Council (MLC) has apologised for a Facebook post featuring a graphic that described satire as a type of fake news and got netizens up in arms for being fake news itself.

The graphic had highlighted six types of "fake news": false context, imposter content, manipulated content, misleading content, clickbait, and satire.

Most of the over 250 comments left on the post as of 5pm on Sunday (Sept 8) disagreed that satire was a form of fake news, with a few asking if the council itself was misleading the public and some asking it to issue an apology and retraction.

In a statement on Sunday, the MLC said it acknowledged that its post and infographic had given the wrong impression that satire was fake news, which was not the intent.

"We are sorry for the confusion and will review our material," it added.

"The aim of the post was to raise awareness among youths and the general public about the need to be aware of the ways in which misinformation or fake news can be spread, and encourage readers to understand the context in which information is presented.

"This is part of MLC's work to encourage online discernment. Thank you to the readers who brought this to our attention."

The MLC's post, which went online last Thursday and was removed last night, had promoted its fact-check kit called "Get Smart with Sherlock" and also featured a cartoon figure, which appears to be modelled after fictional private detective Sherlock Holmes.

Singaporean cartoonist Dan Wong commented that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), which was passed in May, does not cover opinions, criticism, satire or parody.

During several weeks of public discourse over the proposed law with academics, journalists, activists, politicians and senior lawyers giving inputs, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had also repeatedly stressed that Pofma would cover only false statement of facts, and not criticism, opinions, satire and parody.

In a public Facebook post on Sunday, Associate Professor Leong Ching, dean-designate of students at the National University of Singapore, wrote that the MLC should print a retraction and correction.

"The truth is, satire is NOT fake news. It is exempt from POFMA," she added.

"We do not expect perfection from our public agencies but we do expect them to behave in a certain way if they make mistakes. We all made mistakes - does the media literary council itself know how to behave when it makes a mistake online?"

In a Friday night comment replying to Mr Wong, the MLC said it understood concerns regarding including satire as fake news in relation to Pofma.

It explained that while Pofma defines a falsehood as a statement of fact that is false or misleading and does not extend to opinions, criticisms, satire or parody, the examples in the kit represent other possible scenarios in which Fake News can be spread.

These include clickbait articles that make exaggerated claims, or instances of people being fooled by a satirical article in which the irony or humour is not readily apparent, said MLC.

But several netizens on Sunday continued to criticise the MLC's post.

Facebook user Ann Ang called the classification "a step back", noting that satire has "an important literary history".

"You may wish to note that satire is taught as part of our curriculum in schools, and regularly tested in source based assessment, where learners are asked to be critical about such sources."

Another user, Ms Nabilah Said, also pointed out the character of Sherlock Holmes was from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who came from a long line of political satirists, and the character himself has a long tradition of being parodied.

"So contrary to your claim that Sherlock would be weeding out satire in the search for fake news, I think it would be more apt for him to seek it out and appreciate it for what it is: a literary and artistic form involving humour, exaggeration and irony, which seeks to inform or make people think," she said.

Local writer Ng Yi-Sheng commented that the MLC's post was still up after three days.

"Evidently, Media Literacy Council does not care about the potential damage that this post may do to our creative culture and their credibility. If and when they do remove it, I expect a full apology and an admission that government-backed sources also contain bias and require fact-checking," he added.

Before it was removed, the post itself had been shared over 300 times as at 5pm on Sunday.

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