By Ogova Ondego
Published March 19, 2018
As a leading social network site runs away from the dragon known as Fake News, an international multimedia broadcaster, clutching a sword in one hand and a shield in the other, is running towards the monster, determined to slay it.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the dilemma tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter that are said to be minting colossal amounts of treasures from their news services find themselves in with regard to their role in the promotion of fiction as fact more than the Presidential elections in the United States of America of 2016 in which false news in favour of Republican candidate Donald J Trump was created in Macedonia and elsewhere and pushed down the throat of unsuspecting voting public via social networks and leading search engines.
Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, first tried to fight the barrage of condemnation directed at social media and Google by saying in a post on November 13, 2016 that Facebook gives “every person a voice” to express their views”, that this freedom of expression “has driven not only our community, but democracy overall”, that “more than 99% of what people see is authentic” and that “Identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated.”
Freedom of Expression? Democracy? Truth? Just why does a tech company take on the role of news media, journalists and communicators if it doesn’t have what it takes to operate as a ‘publisher’? Yes, the relationship between tech companies like Google and Facebook on one hand and creators of content like books, news, movies and music hasn’t been free of of frustration, mistrust and accusations and counter-accusations related to commercial exploitation of content created by the latter.
Unable to placate critics, Zuckerberg changed tact on January 12, 2018 as he announced that Facebook had decided to focus more on Friends and Family and less on Publishers and Brands.
“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness,” Zuckerberg writes.
Saying Facebook’s shift to stress friends and family began in 2017, Zuckerberg says “The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups. … you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
“Facebook has always been about personal connections,” Zuckerberg contends. “By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.”
But this looks more like excusing away deliberate and calculated misinformation and spread of false news stories and propganda pushed through Facebook instead of fighting fake news, doesn’t it?
Facebook, through its algorithm, has deliberately reduced the number of Friends in a Publisher’s network who see the Publisher’s posts.
Why does this happen?
Because Facebook wants Publishers to pay Facebook for Facebook to show the Publisher’s content to Facebook’s new primary focus: Friends of the Publisher or those in the targeted vicinity.
It matters not whether that news content to be boosted (promoted) is factual as long as it is popular. Unfortunately what is popular isn’t necessarily factual.
Already,research shows that the number of people using Facebook, as it should, is declining. Because Facebook, like Instagram, appears to be more interested in Vanity, perception and fiction than in Substance.
But the fake news phenomenon cannot be wished away. Not when it is working against the credibility and trust humanity had in mass media.
This is where BBC, that projects itself as a media organisation that is ‘committed to achieving the highest standards of accuracy and impartiality and to being rigorous in establishing the truth of the story’, come in.
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Exactly 46 days after Facebook showed its clean pair of heels to the world on Fake News, BBC appears to be stepping in direct firing line: it says it is making its battle on fake news, that it defines as ‘false information distributed deliberately, usually for political or commercial reasons’, global.
“The BBC today sets out its ambition to be a global leader in the fight against fake news, which is creating a huge decline in global audiences’ trust in media,” BBC announced on March 15, 2018.
Led by BBC’s World Service Group, the broadcaster says it shall put “a major focus on Global Media Literacy, and culminating in a major live global broadcast bringing together young people from around the world to discuss how trust can be restored.”
BBC says its strategy involves:
- Extending the BBC’s Reality Check service to more parts of the world
- Bringing together fact-checking stories from various countries on a Global Fake News page, giving them wider circulation and bigger impact
- Rolling out materials educating about fake news to schools and audiences around the world, and
- Organising a major full-day fake news event where teenagers from around the world will be brought together in a live broadcast to talk about the challenges they face in their home countries in assessing news, sharing ideas about solutions for the future.
Fran Unsworth, Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, says, “The BBC has already been doing a lot to tackle the scourge of fake news through Reality Check fact-checking claims and coming to a judgment, or our journalists going into schools in the UK to educate youngsters. But this is a global problem. It’s vital people have access to news they can trust – and know how to distinguish between fact and fiction. Broadcasters and the rest of the news industry have a responsibility to tackle fake news, and I want to use the BBC’s global reach to lead the way.”
BBC, that refers to Fake news as a ‘huge global issue’, says it is organising a single day live broadcast to combat fake news that shall be “coordinated from London and include broadcasts from Beirut, Nairobi and Mumbai or Delhi.”
The event, BBC says, will give teenagers the chance to talk “about the challenges they face in their home countries in assessing news. They will share their thinking about solutions for the future. It will have the flavour of a global School Report, with young people leading the debate and the journalism, supported by BBC journalists and in house experts in their region.”
BBC says it will use the occasion to release its findings on a global survey on media trust issues besides producing a ‘clickable map of fake news stories allowing audiences to see a heatmap of disinformation around the world’.
“Building on the work that has already been done by School Report, and BBC Hindi, through the year we will also be developing materials that can be rolled out globally to help young people combat fake and false news and information. They will guide our audiences through questions such as: “What is Fake News?” “Who do you Trust?” “How to assess content?” It will include online videos and workshop materials,” BBC says in its statement to the media.