Dear fake news becoming extremely widespread. Singapore

DearSir, Irefer to your article ‘How Technology Disrupted the Truth’ dated12 Jul 2016. Inthis article, Katherine Vimer makes some striking points about howdigital culture has profoundlyshifted ourperception of current events,mainly due to the way socialmedia algorithms such asFacebook’s or Twitter’s work.

Shetalks about how theInternet-era media isconsciously sidesteppingor ignoringunwelcome facts and contradictions in their ever more desperate,fragmented chase for eyeballs. This is extremely problematic, as itmakes it significantly harder for people to find the mostrelevant and up-to-date news.Instead ofshowing the most pertinentstories, socialmedia networks are bombardingusers with theposts that get the most “clicks”, “shares” or “likes”,depending on the platform. Thedigital revolution has alsoled to a rise in thepublishing of false,misleading, or deliberately outrageous stories which spreadlike wildfire across thevarioussocial media platforms. Thereason why these stories spread so quickly, is because theyare assumed to be true by most people andthus continued to be shared onthe social media network, whichthen results in a vicious cyclewhere the same linkscontinue to be shared over and over again.

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WhatKatherine said really resonates with me. Ifind this extremely troubling as this can be a serious issue,especiallyduring emergency situations, when news is breaking in real time andpeople do not have the time nor patience to carefully check eachsource, thus making it hard for people to distinguish what is fakefrom real. For example, during the November 2015 Paris terrorattacks, rumors quickly spread on social media that the Louvre andPompidou Centre had been hit, and that François Hollande hadsuffered a stroke. In their panic,people started blindlyforwardingthe message to all their loved ones without checking the source, thusresulting in the fake news becoming extremely widespread. Singaporeisn’t free of fake news, either. Sometime in March 2017, wordspread like wildfire via WhatsApp that someone was fined $200 forleaving used tissue behind at a public eating place.

Incredulous asit may sound, many people believed it enough to pass on the messageto friends and family – and it became such a serious problem thatthe National Environment Agency (NEA) had to come forward with anofficial statement to debunk the hoax on March 30. Also,in 2015, several foreign news outlets, including American newsnetwork CNN and Chinese broadcaster CCTV, wrongly reported thatfounding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew – who was then in intensive care- had passed on, as they had based the article on an announcementmade by a fake government website. Later on the police found out thatthe website was created by a teenager, who had claimed that he onlywanted to demonstrate how easy it was for a hoax to be perpetuated.

Theseexamples that I have presented simply proves that fake news isbecoming more and more prevalent in this day and age where just aboutanyone with basic technical skills can create a website containingmisleading content, share it to Facebook and watch it spread likewildfire across the world without even lifting a finger. However,there is something in Katherine’s article that I cannot fully agreebeyond partial concession. Throughout the article, there is thisovertone that the Internet-era media is responsible for truthslipping away in some sense. In my opinion I feel that this is nottrue, as this was already a problem before the Internet was eveninvented. Forexample, back in the 17th century, pamphlets, songs andposters were basically the equivalent of social media and proved justas effective as social media at spreading falsehoods.

Oneof the best-known examples of misleading and seditious materialduring this decade was that of the Mazarinades during the Frenchcivil wars during the early years of Louis XIV’s reign. Thesepamphlets, primarily attacking Louis XIV’s prime minister CardinalMazarin, levelled charges of everything from corruption and treasonto incest and sodomy and other sexual misdemeanours against theItalian cardinal.


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