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Digital platforms: bearers of fake news?

  • Published at 04:32 pm May 4th, 2017
Digital platforms: bearers of fake news?
Members of a household patiently waiting their turns to read the newspaper in the morning or fighting over the favourite page are perhaps a rare scene nowadays, if not non-existent. Although much of this is probably due to a proliferation of the visual media, some part of the decline of newspapers is certainly due to the availability of digital content.

Ever increasing online content

Despite increasing dissemination, there is still very low Internet reach in Bangladesh. 96.92 percent of Bangladeshi households did not have internet connectivity in 2011, according to the Population Census Sample Survey by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. In contrast, 44.66 percent of households were reported to have newspaper readerships. However, this is gradually changing and specifically with the revolutionary spread of hand held devices, people are slowly adapting to getting their news digitally. The online news sources exist in many different iterations, with the most common being online versions of print newspapers. There are also standalone online newspapers. Some of these have grown to attract not only huge numbers of online readers, but have also happen to have attained considerable acceptance because of the quality of journalism and reach. The first online newspaper in Bangladesh was by The Daily Star, opening up its digital iteration in 1997. 20 years later, every newspaper in print has their own online version. In fact, at this point it would be quite perplexing if a newspaper didn't have a website. The Daily Star website currently ranks at 38 in Bangladesh with over 64 thousand unique visitors per day, according to Alexa, the most widely consulted web traffic data service. The top news site, which also happens to be the top Bangladeshi website overall, Prothom-alo.com comes at 4, only after Google, YouTube and Facebook. With a staggering 60 million pages views per month, Prothom Alo's Facebook page also enjoys the distinction of being the largest Bangladeshi Facebook page with over 11 and a half million 'likes'. A number of other news outlets gave gained profound growth in thedigital space too. Only four years after the first publication, Dhaka Tribune has gathered nearly half a million 'likes' on its Facebook page, becoming one of the fastest growing English dailies in the country. Even though the advent of Facebook was initially meant for messaging and networking, the website eventually took over the internet with the force of a super-storm. The increasing integration of digital contents into the social networking site resulted in people relying more and more on it for entertainment and news. The immense proliferation of viral content through Facebook impacted how people see and read news. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey suggests that as many as one-in-seven Americans have turned away from cable or satellite TV subscriptions. The Center’s survey data reveal that younger adults are more likely to name social media as a main source of news. “Even beyond the young, fully 62% of U.S. adults overall now get news on social media sites,” a report by Amy Mitchell and Jesse Holcomb on the Pew survey reads.

The pressing need for fact-checking

With the unstoppable spread of Facebook news and with marketers racing to grab every piece of the digital revenue, click-bait and 'fake news' started to occupy the digital landscape. To combat the situation, Facebook announced a new tool for users that will alert users about “disputed content”. The site announced in December last year that it would be partnering with independent fact-checkers to crack down on the spread of misinformation on its platform. Even though this is not available to wider Facebook users yet, this feature may just be the solution, or at least part of the solution, to the outbreak of false news in the social media. Co-founder of BDFactCheck.com, Qadaruddin Shishir thinks that the feature will help to a certain extent to control the current flow of fake news stories floating around the web. Founded recently, BDFactCheck.com hopes to become the long needed public fact checking service in Bangladesh and the go to place for finding out pure, nonpartisan facts. In order to partner up with Facebook Shishir’s website has to sign up with The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) first. The Facebook feature operates by prompting a red alert if someone attempts to share a story that is disputed by the designated fact checking sources. Clicking on that warning produces a second pop-up with more information “About disputed content”. “Sometimes people share fake news without knowing it. When independent fact-checkers dispute this content, you may be able to visit their websites to find out why,” the warning reads. That’s where the IFCN comes in, as Facebook will only show fact-checkers who are signed up to Poynter’s non-partisan code of principles. The IFCN is hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the code promotes excellence in non-partisan and transparent fact-checking for journalism. “We have contacted them. And after a certain period of observation the IFCN will sign us up if they are satisfied,” Shishir informed. A senior researcher at Jamuna TV, Shishir cofounded BDFactCheck.com with Zahed Arman, a Graduate Assistant at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania to create a nonpartisan, nonprofit platform that will “reduce the level of deception and confusion in Bangladesh.” Shishir thinks fact-checking should go beyond ‘news’. “It should be done to a much wider scale, spanning the fields of literature, history etc. If the general public has access to the correct facts, it will empower them,” said Shishir. He correctly stipulates that making the facts available to the public is a “moral imperative” because the wider public will not read the big books and documents. “So, if there are mistakes in important documents or books then it should be brought to the attention of the people,” he said. Shishir strongly believes that if people in the past had an option to fact-check certain information or claims, it would have had immense positive impact on our national life and “we could have averted a lot of damage.”