When and how ‘fake news’ first became a global phenomenon remains disputed, but untrue information used to misinform people is becoming more and more common in Fiji.
Last week, a top Papua New Guinea news editor warned of the impact fake news could have on the electoral process in Fiji.
To fight “the misinformation that is mushrooming on social media,” said Neville Choi, of EMTV, news organisations should begin working together.
Richard Herr, Adjunct Professor of Pacific Governance and Diplomacy at The University of Fiji’s Centre for International and Regional Affairs, attempts to explain the ‘fake news’ concept.
He said: “Given the current popularity of the ‘fake news’ meme, it is scarcely surprising that it has appeared as an electoral issue in Fiji.
“ ‘Political spin’ which is the twisting of facts or the interpretation of facts for political purposes has been a feature of democracy for more than two millennia.
“What makes ‘fake news’ different is that it seeks to generate an emotional response to over-ride rational judgment and to distort the political debate by presenting as ‘fact’ information that confuses voters.
“Fake news presents a lie or deliberate deception as if it were a ‘fact’ because it’s presented as from a credible source as news.
The phenomenon has hit local news organisations as well. This month, an image of a Fiji Sun front page that said ‘WE DID IT’ was edited to say ‘PM DID IT’ and was widely-circulated.
The headline was in reference to the Fiji Sevens team’s victory at the Hamilton leg of the World Rygby 7s Series on February 4.
The manipulated ‘fake news’ version of the front page managed to even deceive trade unionist and former politician Attar Singh, who shared it on his personal Facebook account.
“The remedy for this insidious and growing political cancer is for it to be cut out of the campaigning as radically as possible,” Professor Herr said.
“This will require journalists to make sure honest and professionally sourced news is available.
“Poorly or unscrupulously sourced material should never find its way into the legitimate news.”
In Fiji, the bulk of misinformation that exists is spread through social media – mainly Facebook.
In a post this month, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said preventing false news, hate speech and other abuse on the social site was an important personal challenge for him in 2018.
“It should be noted,” said Professor Herr, “that much of what is claimed to be ‘fake news’ fails to meet this standard of being “news” in any sense – that is, presented through some process of ethical journalism.
“Claims on social media are not news. They cannot be regarded as anything more than political opinion or commentary that depends on the expertise and integrity of the author.
“Unfortunately, many users of social media tend to seek out headlines and websites that reconfirm their prejudices rather than challenge them to view the political debate objectively.”
Edited by Percy Kean