Fake news is never news

Almost everyone using the Facebook has become a reporter of sort. Unknowingly, unintentionally or maliciously, they may post their opinions or their impressions without qualifiying as such and these may be construed as news. Never.

In the public hearing at the Philippines Senate this week, Mr. Ed Lingao of TV 5 has post it rightly with the following:
“1. We have long needed to discuss the problem of fake news. In an age where too many people have turned social media feeds into their only news source, when people who rely only on FB do not even bother to read beyond the memes, where fake news sites have supplanted real news sites, that discussion has long been delayed.

2. Unfortunately, the Senate hearing is based on the wrong premise and has spun out into all sorts of directions. As enunciated by the committee chairperson, the hearings were principally to address the complaints by several senators that they were victims of fake news because of a blog allegedly written by a Mr. Cocoy Dayao. Here is where it gets problematic:

3. Fake news should be construed to mean information deliberately faked in order to appear like news. A Stanford study released last year on the effect of fake news on the US elections provides a handy and reasonable definition of fake news – deliberately wrong and misleading, and pretending to be from a news source. Kaya nga fake news. Hindi wrong chismis. Hindi rin offensive opinion.
The study has a lot of interesting findings, including how, because of the prevalence of fake news, people have discovered that they actually like getting partisan “news” or stories that affirm their beliefs, and are now demanding it. But I digress.

4. Blogs, unless they purport to be news sites and present themselves as news articles, are commentary and opinion pieces on anything under the sun – weather, politics, entertainment, fashion, religion, etc. In other words, if they are clearly opinions (which we are all entitled to), and do not purport to be news articles, they do not in any way fall under fake news.

5. Which brings us to this point – why are senators grilling some bloggers on their supposed lack of accuracy in their social media posts? Dayao is now being subpoenaed by the Senate. Is that because he posted “fake news,” the real issue in the hearing, or is it because he offended several senators? As well, Sen. Pacquiao grilled Usec Lorraine Badoy for a faulty post in 2016, and Sen. Sotto grilled Jover Laurio for her other posts as well. Senator Pacquiao even thought of licensing bloggers so that government can control them. Thankfully, his fellow senators gracefully shot it down. However, Pacquiao, for all his good intentions, must also learn or relearn the importance of certain principles and institutions of democracy before making these wild proposals. Baka may kumagat eh. But it may also do well for some senators to remember that when they, in their official capacity, call out people for being disagreeable, they are treading on shaky ground. I say this because by all appearances, the hearing has become a forum for senators to air their grievances against bloggers who offended them.

6. But here’s the thing – people have the right to offend you! Within the bounds of the law, people can call you out, can criticize you, and they can even make mistakes in doing so, because that is their right. But if they violate the law, then you can sue them. If the senators feel they have the right to haul bloggers out to a hearing just because they were offended, they should be made aware that other people face a lot more offensive comments out there yet they do not have privilege of confronting their critics in a senate hearing.

7. Within the bounds of the law, EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO BE WRONG; BUT EVERYONE ALSO HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO GET IT RIGHT! People have the right to be assholes or saints, but so long as they do not violate the law, they are protected by the Constitution. There is a huge difference between right and responsibility.

A blog is offensive or inaccurate, it is not necessarily illegal, and neither does it fall into the ambit of fake news. Like it or not, we all have this habit of dismissing comments we disagree with as “fake news” just because we do not like them.

So what do we do? The US and Canada have recognized the problem of fake news early on, and they have started instituting media literacy courses in their curriculum. Yes, in their curriculum. For students. Because that is the best alternative so far. You can not legislate against fake news, not unless you plan to legislate media and social media content, as well as media and social media consumption. Besides, who will you trust to decide what is fake news and what is correct news? Government? As far as governments are concerned, all administrations tend to brand all critical news and commentary as fake, erroneous, made-up, or politically motivated. All administrations.

What we need are for young people to learn to be more critical of what they read, and how they interpret it. Where did they read it, what was the source? Is the source reliable? Are there holes in the story? Stanford University also has released a free curriculum on media literacy to combat fake news, and has made this available for anyone to download for free.

With a little localized tweaking, local schools can also make use of these materials that are available for free. Students are made to read statements, and are asked to look at them with a critical eye.”

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