Wed, Apr 04, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Consumers must stop fake news

There seems to be no respite from China’s pressuring of other countries to marginalize Taiwan, such as Man Booker International Prize nominee Wu Ming-yi (吳明益) being listed on the award’s Web site as a national of “Taiwan, China” and some nations changing how they officially refer to Taiwan or removing its flag from government Web sites.

These are among Beijing’s blatant bullying tactics that are obviously malicious and are easily recognizable by Taiwanese as something to get upset about and stand up against.

However, as the nation inches closer to local elections in November, lawmakers have again raised the issue of fake news, which made quite a stir in Taiwan about a year ago and was especially rampant during the push for pension reform by President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration.

As the fake news is likely to ramp up in the coming months as China seeks to influence the elections, it is worth bringing the issue to public attention.

On Saturday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) urged the government to take fake news seriously, calling for countermeasures to fight information coming out of Chinese content farms aimed at harming Taiwan, as well as the party. Propaganda and fake news have long been used to influence, but it is more important than ever that people are able to discern the veracity of Internet news sources, especially in Taiwan, which is prone to mass hysteria and where freedom of speech means susceptibility to false information from many fronts.

More unsettling is that Facebook has reportedly often been unresponsive to the government’s requests for help filtering or identifying fake news, while the privacy policies and data collection methods of other large social media platforms are unclear.

Lin urged the government to follow the EU’s example in imposing heavy penalties on fake news providers and over the misuse of personal information, saying that people who violate the EU regulations face fines of up to NT$800 million (US$27.45 million).

However, once the government starts regulating fake news — which often is not created or hosted in Taiwan — there is a risk that freedom of speech can be compromised.

Such measures would not be convincing, because the government is not neutral and has its own agenda — who knows if it would call something that paints the DPP in a bad light fake news?

Fake news can only go so far if people recognize it and stop sharing it, which remains the crux of the problem.

In addition to the malicious fake news from China, Taiwan faces a media economy where companies are willing to do anything to get hits. As long as the media and social media platforms are not held responsible for their content they will keep doing it because they are businesses that need to make a profit.

People no longer actively seek out news, they only skim whatever appears on their news feed without much thought, or share an article based on the headline and photograph without reading the article. In such cases, content farms do not even need to bother writing fake news, they just write a tantalizing headline and watch the magic happen. It should not be that easy, but it is.

No amount of government regulation can fix this cycle unless people take the threat seriously. Offering people an education in detecting fake news would keep people vigilant.

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