Experts: Fake news threatening human rights, democracy
They pressed for formal legal measures, corporate commitments and civil society actions to combat fake news
Fake news, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech have become more widespread and dangerous with the growth of social media, and experts have called for these insidious threats to be addressed.
The high prevalence of fake news is having an impact on democracy, freedom of expression and human rights across the globe, the speakers said on Tuesday at an international seminar at a Dhaka hotel. The event, titled “Fake News: A Threat to Human Rights and Democracy”, was hosted by Empowerment through Law of the Common People (ELCOP).
Formal legal measures, corporate commitments and civil society actions are all needed to combat fake news, said they said.
Dr Mizanur Rahman, chairman of ELCOP and former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, moderated the two sessions of the seminar.
During the first session, called “Fake News: A Threat to Democracy”, senior journalist Saleem Samad presented a paper entitled “Fake News: A Threat to Democracy in Saarc and BRICS Countries”.
In his presentation, he said collective efforts from South Asian countries and BRICS to tackle fake news are currently lacking, except for canned rhetoric by regional leaders.
His paper recommended more emphasis on social and educational strategies to combat fake news.
In the later part of the session, Arefin Mizan, a research consultant at ELCOP, presented a paper titled “Fake News: A Threat to Democracy in Bangladesh”.
He discussed how fake news is decreasing confidence in democratic processes and institutions in Bangladesh, citing recent cases and data.
Arefin Mizan mentioned two YouTubers, Pinaki Bhattacharya and Elias Hossain, and showed that their content on YouTube and other social media platforms spread misinformation as they were based on unverified documents and sources.
His paper concluded with a call to Bangladeshis to teach others about fake news and its dangers, with the slogan "Each 1, teach 10”.
Dr Abul Barakat from Bangladesh and Dr Arghya Sengupta and Pulokesh Ghosh from India participated as designated discussants of the session. The discussants pointed out that there are grey areas in combating fake news.
Dr Barakat said the focus should be on identifying the determinants of fake news and the determinants of demand for fake news.
He said addressing fake news is challenging as a combination of formal legal measures, corporate commitments and civil society actions are needed.
Dr Arghya said tech giants have the responsibility to prevent fake news, as it is spreading through their platforms.
During the second session, called “Fake News: A Threat to Human Rights”, ELCOP Research Consultant Aroup Raton Shaha presented a paper titled “Fake News: A Threat to Human Rights in Saarc and BRICS Countries”.
In the paper, Shaha gave examples of different international incidents involving fake news that have affected human rights in different parts of the world.
In the later part of the second session, Md Johir Uddin Shohag, also a research consultant at ELCOP, presented a paper titled “Fake News: A Threat to Human Rights in Bangladesh”.
He pointed out that the rise of the influence of tech companies and populism has helped fake news spread faster, which may lead people to become agitated and act irrationally; for example, fabricated Facebook posts defaming religion may incite attacks on minorities.
The paper illustrated the disastrous impacts of fake news on human rights in Bangladesh.
Johir ended his presentation by calling for international cooperation to combat fake news.
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed from Bangladesh, Dr Yubaraj Sangroula from Nepal, Jayanta Roy Chowdhury and Dr Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai from India, and Vasily Pushkov from Russia spoke as the designated discussants of the session.
Dr Yubaraj, former attorney general of Nepal, said the accountability and effective functionality of democratic institutions are essential to prevent fake news.
Scholars, journalists, diplomats, civil society representatives, bureaucrats, NGO and INGO officials, UN officials, and human rights activists participated in the open discussion session.