Elections ripe for F-news

Fears that political campaigns will use 'fake news'

03 September 2019 | Politics

As Namibia heads to the polls later this year, media experts last week warned journalists of the dangers and ease with which political campaigns, in what has been dubbed the 'post-truth era', are able to wield fake news as a divisive tool to boost their campaigns and discredit opponents.

The workshop was hosted by the Internet Society in collaboration with the United Nations, Facebook and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), to underscore the use of mis- and disinformation, especially during electoral contests.

Moreover, experts invited to talk to the trainees, hailing from Facebook, the UN, Africa Check and local institutions, provided journalists with a number of tools to ensure quality journalism and combat fake content, so accurate information could be given to the public.

Among the speakers was Kate Wilkinson from Africa Check, who introduced journalists to fact-checking platforms and outlined how social platforms are used to spread disinformation.

Charles Brady of Global Partners Digital provided a taxonomy of the different types of fake news and their potential harmful impact on society. Brady and others also underlined that fake news has different categories, but experts distinguish between two main types.

These are misinformation, which is not a deliberate act to misinform, but which is incorrect information that the disseminator believes, and disinformation, which is a deliberate act to misinform.

Jeanne Elone from Facebook introduced the social media giant's community standards, tools and policies to combat fake news, while Ashnah Kalemera of CIPESA outlined how African governments have threatened the right to online access and abused disinformation during election campaigns.

The Fourth Estate

Unesco representative to Namibia, Djaffar Moussa-Elkadhum, highlighted that in recent years the world has witnessed a steep increase of misinformation and disinformation, which has placed journalism and journalists under pressure.

He stressed that the increasing spreading of fake news, and the role of internet companies in its proliferation and easy access to the public, has led to concerns amongst many of the quality of public discourse, particularly around elections.

Elections in particular add fuel to the fire by providing opportunities for compromises to the credibility of journalism, given the avenues provided by social media platforms that enable the wider public to engage in citizen journalism and the spreading of misinformation.

Moussa-Elkadhum stressed the role of journalism to counteract this phenomenon, while underlining a need for news media to take a close look at professional standards and ethics and take a step back from information which “may interest some of the public, but which is not in the public interest”.

In line with this, Unesco compiled a book titled 'Journalism, fake news and disinformation', which forms part of a global initiative for excellence in journalism education.

Namibian journalist, editor and press freedom activist Gwen Lister spoke on how the media can help combat the spread of “f-news”, as she labels misinformation and disinformation.

She noted that as difficult as it often is to distinguish fact from fiction online, and given the rise of questionable content online, “the role of journalism is more critical than ever before to curtail the spread of it”.

She stressed there “can be no more effective antidote to dis- and misinformation, lies and propaganda, than journalistic excellence. And we need much more of it.”

Lister said in line with this, the news media need to focus on raising the quality of journalism and maintaining high standards at all times.

With the elections around the corner, Lister added the news media plays a critical role in ensuring that the public can make informed choices when they vote.

Lies and propaganda are used to deliberately disinform and undermine democratic processes, Lister said, and without the skills to distinguish truth from fake news, the “risks of the public being fooled is greater than ever before”.

She said the media needs to “win back the support of people who once hung onto our every word”, and can do so by helping the public to recognise what is disinformation and propaganda, by exposing fake news.

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