Digital Rights Foundation releases its report ‘Sifting truth from lies’

Jan 8, 2020, Lahore: Journalists have identified social media, particularly WhatsApp, as the hotbed for the spread of false information, noting that the increasing crisis of confidence in journalism is being fed by the weaponization of the term fake news, according to a recent Digital Rights Foundation study.

The Digital Rights Foundation, a registered non-governmental advocacy-based research organisation – on Wednesday released its report titled ‘Sifting truth from lies in the age of fake news’. The study attempts to identify topics that are more susceptible to fake news, and common methods of its dissemination. It also examines the extent of fact-checking practiced in Pakistan’s newsrooms and how often do journalists believe fake news to be true.

Based on the experiences of 152 journalists and activists, who participated in a survey for the research, the report found that over 88per percent respondents identified social media platforms as the least worthy source of information with WhatsApp being a top choice. Eight percent of journalists said that no one fact-checked in the newsroom they worked at.

DRF found that journalists are not comfortable using the term ‘fake news’ to describe news that is not true as it has increasingly been used in Twitter campaigns for partisan propaganda and discrediting credible journalism. It also found that politically contentious topics and censorship encouraged the spread of falsehoods online. Frequent accusations of ‘fake news’ have led to an increase in interest in fact checking in newsrooms. 

According to participants of the study, fake news spread on Twitter via seemingly fake, hyper-nationalist accounts. Others use doctored screenshots of major news outlets as ‘documentary evidence’. Fake Twitter profiles to impersonate well-known figures and disseminate false information using these profiles are also common. It also highlighted the severe dearth of media literacy training in Pakistan. Only 17 per cent of the respondents said they have attended fact-checking training. There are no dedicated fact-checkers or fact-checking organisations based in Pakistan.

Ramsha Jahangir, the author of the study, said when journalists use ‘fake news’ in their reporting, they are giving legitimacy to an unhelpful and increasingly dangerous phrase. “The findings of the study point towards an increasing weaponization of context. Old images/videos are packaged as new, doctored screenshots of tickers go viral..anything with a kernel of truth is used out of context. This is not ‘fake news’. We are all victims of information disorder,” said Ramsha Jahangir.

Pointing to the report’s findings, DRF’s Executive Director Nighat Dad said that, “ The fake news phenomenon in the digital platforms is impacted by a complex set of deep-rooted ideological, cultural and political issues which demonstrates that this isn’t just a tech or media literacy problem, but also one that needs to be examined from a socio-psychological perspective. The lack of awareness among the public, the media practitioners and journalist community is a big impediment to fighting fake news on digital platforms and DRF hopes to overcome this challenge through advocacy and research initiatives.”

DRF also presented recommendations to tackle the menace of fake news and misinformation. It urged the government to involve key stakeholders, including civil society, media practitioners, press clubs, journalists’ unions and news organisations, in legislation plans to regulate media and information disorder. It also called for the media organisations and press clubs to invest in fact-checking training and verification tools for their staff. 

Complete Report can be downloaded from here: Sifting Truth from Lies

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