Asian Catholic Citizenship against ‘Fake News’ and Disinformation

Asian Catholic Citizenship against ‘Fake News’ and Disinformation

By: Dr. Paul Hwang (Director of ALL FORUM)

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, fake news became a global phenomenon as former President Trump sparked controversy over “fake news.” It was fake news that influenced the success of Trump and Hillary in the election at that time. Fake news, which began with the curiosity of teenage students in a rural village in Macedonia, one small country in Europe little to do with the US election, served as a powerful force for the President Trump’s election.

At that time, the U.S. pointed to Russia as the epicenter of the fake news. Although Russia made headlines in the U.S. media for intervening in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump win, it had to be correctly aware of the rapidly changing reality of the global community as the epicenter was revealed after the presidential election that the genuine agent for the fake news was the teenagers not Russia.

Meanwhile, Trump accused social media operators of abusing their authority and undermining political neutrality under the Article 230 of the Communications Decency Act in EU, which granted full immunity to Internet service providers. Since then, discussions on revising Article 230 of the Act targeting platforms have continued, but it seems difficult to revise Article 230, which has become the cornerstone of the development of the U.S. Internet industry.

The teenage students who created the aforementioned fake news made a lot of money from the news, which served as a reason for the emergence of people challenging the rich YouTuber throughout the world. In Korea, the announcement of the survey that the number one job young people want to do in the future is a YouTuber is now a frequent thing to hear. Fake news is different from rumors. It is fake news to create something that is not true, produce it under the name of news, and distribute it to the public.

The impact of fake news is great because people are more interested in fake things that are made more dynamically than true. It is deceiving the public with provocative text, and causing damage to someone by spreading it. The public sees fake news that they often encounter even though they know it’s not true. However, the public doesn’t spend time verifying facts over fake and real things.

As fake things repeat, the facts drift apart, and at that moment fake news becomes real news. As the name fake news itself causes various confusion, the United Nations recommends that academia and countries around the world use the terms “disinformation” and “misinformation” instead of ambiguous terms “fake news.” In particular, in March 2018, the UN European Commission proposed using the term “disinformation” instead of fake news in a report titled “multidimensional approach to false information” involving 49 high-ranking experts, including scholars, journalists and platform operators.

False information is spreading online in various forms such as comments, Twitter, and YouTube videos as well as news, and the term fake news makes false information misunderstood as being limited to news. It also analyzed that politicians tend to shrink press freedom by calling media reports critical or unfavorable to them as fake news. The report defined disinformation as ‘false, inaccurate or misleading information designed, produced, and distributed for the purpose of harming the public or for profit’. There is another example of what happened in Asia regarding fake news.

In 2017, at least eight people were killed in India because of false information. Seven were lynched by angry crowds for false information that they had kidnapped a child and that one had eaten a sacred cow. The route through which this false information spread was a mobile messaging app most frequently used by Indians, called WhatsApp. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, an independent U.S. statistical research institute, India has the fourth highest social hostilities index due to religious conflicts in the world.

The reason why false information circulating on the Internet could be ignited by violence is political and social hostility that supports false information, not WhatsApp itself. Let’s get back to the EU Commission. The commission conducted a wide range of online consultations that could include citizens like Internet service providers, and conducted a common form of research to find out the reality of false information in 28 EU member countries.

The conclusion of the report, which a group of high-level experts put forward after months of deliberation, was not legislation. Rather, it advised, “Avoid overly simple solutions.” “Only when all stakeholders cooperate can false information be efficiently handled in a way that is consistent with freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and pluralism.” Here, freedom of expression and freedom of speech are very important issues when dealing with fake news and false information.

Therefore, it is important to note the issue of freedom of speech or regulation of fake news in a way that democracy is protected in the immediate context, not in a choice of two. If the production and distribution of false information are not only a day or two, what governments in Asia should do should start by grasping what it is rather than hastily declaring an all-out war on “fake news.” The defense of democracy and the fight against false information do not end at once. High education is not being implemented in this regard, but if any it is only a self-study class.

Democracy, in which citizens are main agent, develops the ability to think reasonably and independently. In order to grow into a conscious citizen, proper media education and a sense of citizenship that does not waver even if fake news is rampant are needed. Saying that both the protection of victims and “freedom of speech” by “fake news” are equally important without considering the specific context only obscures the seriousness of the problem and does not help solve the problem at all. It seems fair and democratic to treat both equally, but priorities must be clarified to make democracy a sustainable system.