By Martin Choi
The Journalism and Media Studies Centre held its first series of lunchtime talks this year titled “Journalism in the Age of ‘Fake News’” over the course of three weeks, at a time when newsgathering has come under sustained attack over its veracity.
The three talks were held at the Digital Media Lab where students, faculty, alumni and the public attended presentations by JMSC professors about the controversies over intentionally false or inaccurate reporting.
Kick-starting the series on September 19 was Associate Professor King-wa Fu, who shared his experience at the MIT Media Lab during the US presidential election when the idea of “fake news” became widespread.
In his 10 months from September 2016 to June 2017 as a Fulbright-RGC Hong Kong Senior Research Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Fu collected a sample of US-based Facebook Public Pages, posts, and comments created in the election period—amounting to 929,000 posts published on 52,000 Facebook pages—and developed analytics to examine the pattern of online communities and potential influence of “fake news”.
“When we are unclear about the quality of a news story, but still use social media to like it and engage with it, that will make it widespread,” said Dr. Fu. “There will be a greater chance to post it onto other people’s newsfeed, or to create a lot of attention.”
Moving the series to the methods and merits of fact-checking on September 26, Assistant Professor of Practice Anne Kruger discussed her experiential project developing undergraduates’ online verification skills.
The Cyber News Verification Lab, which was founded in June 2016 by news literacy professors at the JMSC, is
arguably the first of its kind in Asia. “As journalists, we often take for granted the amount of work we do to verify and to fact check the story,” said Anne Kruger, who is also the project’s principal. “The idea is to get the students involved and to basically annotate and see all the different steps they have to take and to really think about what needs to be done when you’re debunking information on social media.”
Rounding up the series with a seminar on news literacy on October 4, Assistant Professor of Practice Masato Kajimoto showcased different types of “fake news” and demonstrated some useful techniques the news audience and journalists could employ to tackle misinformation. Dr. Kajimoto is the co-creator of Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens, a massive open online course (MOOC) offered in partnership with Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy.
He led an interactive seminar prompting discussion among the audience about their thoughts on “fake news”, as well as drawing their attention to cognitive dissonance, a process which was key to-a great deal of misinformation in the news.
“I am interested in the topic of ‘fake news’ as I’m teaching a master’s course about Deep Learning,” said Bethany Chan, an Honorary Associate Professor of the Department of Computer Science at HKU who attended the talks.
“I think the talks gave a positive message to the students, and taught them that it is important to recheck facts,” said Ms. Chan. “That fake news can’t be stopped is a bit bleak, but maybe that’s reality. The audience will need to be better educated, the journalists themselves can’t solve the problem.”
(To watch the three talks in their entirety, please visit the JMSC YouTube channel.)
Martin Choi is in his final year of the Bachelor of Journalism programme at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong. He won the University English-Language Broadcast Prize at the 21st Human Rights Press Awards for “Seeking Refuge in Lesvos,” which he wrote and produced videos for with Christoph Donauer for Mediajungle.dk, an online news platform run by the Danish School of Media and Journalism.
Photography by Li Chen.