Message from Keith
Fake news is everywhere, and growing more sophisticated. But fortunately, so are the efforts to combat it.
That is my takeaway from the last few weeks. That included a series of luncheon talks by JMSC professors on the topic “Journalism In the Age of ‘Fake News’”, and also a four-day trip to Cambodia, where I was a guest of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, which is interested in training their students and staff in news literacy.
The fake news problem differs from place to place, along with the definition of what constitutes fake news. In the U.S., during the 2016 election, fake news was primarily bogus reports and advertorials, usually dressed up to appear as if coming from legitimate news sources, and often manufactured in Russia or Eastern Europe aimed influencing Americans’ voting behaviour.
In Cambodia, the fake news comes from pro-government websites that channel unfounded rumours and conspiracies about shadowy Western forces trying to foment “colour revolutions” aimed at overthrowing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
Sometimes, fake news can be satirical—phoney news pieces meant to be funny until taken seriously, like when The Onion newspaper in the U.S. named North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “The Sexiest Man Alive.” China’s state media was taken in by the prank. And then there was the widely reported story of the African migrant from Senegal who chronicled his arduous journey to Spain on Instagram, except it was later proven to be a hoax, a piece of performance art concocted to draw attention to the real plight of refugees.
Now JMSC students are learning how to spot fake news using tools learned in the Cyber News Verification Lab and by taking the basic steps taught in news literacy to verify the accuracy of sources before sharing reports on social media. We are fortunate to have partnered with Facebook and with the Google News Lab University Network at the forefront of fighting this proliferation of fake news.
The fake news problem is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. In fact, it is likely to get worse. Face-morphing technology and voice manipulation tools now make it possible to create realistic-looking but fake news footage of public figures appearing to say virtually anything.
But I’m not worried. When I see all the innovations here at JMSC, and when I see the spreading popularity of news literacy, I’m confident that old-fashioned journalistic truth telling will carry the day. Fake news has always been with us—it just migrated from the supermarket tabloids at the grocery store checkout stand to the unruly sphere of cyberspace. We just need to keep our antenna up and call it out as fake, or treat it like the tabloid parody that it is.