The threat of misinformation: fact-checking and self-regulation in media

The current status of fact-checking and self-regulation of media organizations was one of the topics discussed at great length during the first day of World Journalists Conference 2022, held by Journalists Association of Korea.

30 speakers from around the world gathered virtually to explore the necessity of fact-checking and self-regulation in journalism. Habib Toumi from Bahrain noted how with smartphones turning everyone into a reporter, technology has brought out “the best and the worst in people” because most people “do not have the mindset, training or the sense of responsibility of professional journalists” which means “nothing is off limits for them.”

Toumi cited an example of a 17-year-old girl committing suicide after fake photographs of her were posted online in an act of revenge by a man who she had refused to go out with. Toumi insisted that “it takes time to refute fabrications, and during that time, misinformation, like a horrible virus, spreads further and infects more people.” This is why while the job of fact-checkers is difficult, fact-checking is essential and necessary.

Iranian journalist Pooneh Nedai said, “The idea of fact checking has been related to power and money across history. The policy of producing and publishing the right news is influenced by media, people and governments. I do not want to point the crisis of fact checking just with politics but I believe it is related to all.”

And Nedai’s points ring true, especially with the recent events in Pakistan. The issue of fact-checking on social media is timely and relevant to our situation in Pakistan at the moment as we have seen a massive political crisis for about a month now since the possibility of former Prime Minister Imran Khan being ousted after a no-confidence vote arose.

In the weeks following Khan getting kicked out of power, we have seen his political party ‘Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’ use its social media department to spread false claims presented as facts and undermine democracy and the constitution in order to rile up people. It’s the exact same way Trump riled up his supporters to protest and not accept the decision after he lost the elections. Here, even after being voted out and after cases of Khan’s corruption and incompetence came forth, the use of social media by his party has allowed him a great way to rally his troops and cause a civil disturbance.

The time-consuming process of fact-checking especially when it comes to the wildfire-like spreading of fake news on social media platforms absolutely favors politicians like Khan who have been using it to great effect for years to keep the public opinion on their side.

In the same context, journalists’ responsibility to fact-check becomes even more important. Alin Ferrer-Garganera (The Philippines) reminded that as journalists, “our primary obligation is to the truth and we must always observe the discipline of verification.”

Alin Ferrer also remarked on the importance of self-regulation in media organizations. She noted the general, innate human bias and subjectivity that factors into our work as journalists, the invisible corporate influences and our human limitations as reasons to self-regulate. She insisted that as organizations, our motive to profit and earn an income does not outweigh our motive to produce quality and responsible journalistic work.

You can read the full text of Habib Toumi’s speech here, Alin Ferrer-Garganera’s speech here and Pooneh Nedai’s speech here.

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