How can online publishers fight the fake news virus?

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | June 30, 2017
We spoke to a diverse set of experts in the online publishing space. A look at what they said.

The all pervasive, language-agnostic issue of fake news is a great example of a modern day problem faced by an age-old industry.

Sadly, there are different types of fake news - the kind that's rumour-driven, speculative, premature or unconfirmed; the kind that's born out of a lopsided speed-accuracy trade-off; the kind that's right in broad strokes but off on the details; the kind that is born when citizen 'journalism' goes awfully wrong; and of course, the kind that's entirely fabricated and doesn't qualify as news at all.

What can online publishers and editors do about it? We spoke to a diverse set of experts in the field.

Edited Excerpts.

Sidharth Bhatia, founder-editor, The Wire (thewire.in)

Sidharth Bhatia Sidharth Bhatia

The phenomenon of fake news has become a talking point only because of the technology that allows it to spread - through social media, etc. - and allows people to create content that sounds and looks like news but actually isn't. So it's technology that has changed the name of the game... it's not like this (fake news) wasn't a problem in print or TV journalism.

It also spreads because of the confirmation biases of people; people post news without bothering to check the name of the website, if the story is one that serves to confirm their beliefs and ideologies. So this is another reason why it has become such a nuisance.

Fake news is a menace. There's no doubt about it. So what's a journalist to do? Firstly, double check facts, look up the source, and go to the root of the story.

Professional standards have fallen. There are many who think journalism is about tweeting something and looking things up on Wikipedia. It's not.

In the long run only those who stand by the principles of journalism will last.

Samir Patil, founder and CEO scroll media (scroll.in)

Samir Patil Samir Patil

We should not have this problem of fake news to begin with but it is a reality today.

When it comes to fake news, I think there are two problems - a 'soft' problem and a 'hard' problem.

The soft problem can be handled by dealing with the inadvertent errors and rookie mistakes journalists make. This can be done by checking the sources and facts better before rushing to publish something... and by having more experienced people do the job. So before we fret about the hard problem, this is, fortunately, something we can all do. Let's first work towards eliminating all the 'unforced errors', as they say in tennis. The medium is evolving, and how it evolves will depend a lot on this.

The hard problem is re-building public/reader trust that has eroded.

Also, when people say 'fake news', they often mean 'news I don't agree with'. But at the same time, yes, there really is fake news out there. So organisations are stuck between these two challenges.

AJ Christopher, national head, sales and marketing, Eenadu Group

AJ Christopher AJ Christopher

Western media is plagued with fake news because of social media. In India, it's primarily because of WhatsApp... there are people out there who want to 'create' news.

Within the news medium, the TV and online news players are keen to be the fastest 'breaking news' guys. Then there are the brick-and-mortar newspaper brands that have more time to verify their news before publishing it.

For publishers like us, who are getting onto the online medium, there's some kind of responsibility already fixed in the way we have been publishing news, in terms of verifying information. This is primarily because of the policies that govern newspaper journalism.

Also, today, there is more acceptance among readers... the reader is ready to give that 'allowance' to publishers... they have accepted that breaking the news first is very important to publishers; the details keep getting corrected and updated over the hours that follow. But later on, the reader comes back to a credible medium to get all the information. And this is why the big publishing houses need to curate their content carefully and stay out of the 'breaking news' rat race.

Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group

Anant Goenka Anant Goenka

Publishers are no longer in the business of news; they are in the business of credibility. And that's the only differentiation between us and the next '.com' that launches tomorrow.

I think one of the reasons The Indian Express has grown rapidly on the digital platform in the recent past is because Indian readers are growing to be discerning consumers of news. They recognise brands that they can trust from those that they can't.

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