THE deterioration of quality discourse and the subsequent rise of an environment that has propelled disinformation in Namibia is making it clear that, not only journalism but the entire message distribution chain is in a state of considerable flux.
Driven by foreign actors, citizen journalism, and the proliferation of social media, many information systems have become more polarized and contentious, and there has been a precipitous decline in public trust in the governance of those in position of authority while plunging the country into a state of confusion from time to time.
As fighting fake news becomes a global priority, questions remain about what exactly fake news is, what can be done to stop it and how to do so without curbing free speech.
Namibia’s social media has been predominantly characterized by yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes which has successfully brewed suspicion, mistrust and destroyed families across the Namibian political and social spectrum.
In the Namibian context, the dilemma with fake news sources is that it is generated by ghost writers and does not bear ownership unlike our conventional print or broadcast news media that is compelled to comply with ethical codes or reporting and proudly bear responsibility for their professional work.
Social media has therefore become susceptible to a fighting ground where nameless spiteful cowards spew their hatred at their enemies with deliberate insults and fabricated lies to destroy their nemesis.
The relentless toll of misinformation and disinformation by nameless nom-de guerre accounts against figures in public life indicate how social media, particularly WhatsApp and Facebook have become a convenient avenue to spit fire on their adversaries thereby heightening the risk to press freedom.
Namibia’s media freedom interest bodies, such as the Editors Forum of Namibia (EFN), the Namibia Media Trust (NMT), and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) ought to take a pre-emptive stance to express disgust at such regressive phenomenon which poses a potential threat to our hard-earned rights to free speech.
Fake news sources are a disgrace to our dignified journalism career where our reporters invest a lot of resources to deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrong doing.
We need to take a stance against fake news and deploy self-regulatory measures to assist authorities in curbing the spread of fake news to avoid a strict legal approach
EFN, NMT and MISA can also play an important role by spurring their efforts to improve journalism education, support quality journalism initiatives, fact-checking outlets and self-regulatory mechanisms, or set up extensive media and information literacy programs to help people better navigate the digital realm.
A strictly legal approach to fighting fake news could be dangerous. Attempts to define, regulate and penalize what is seen as “fake news” could lead to violations of the right to freedom of expression.
It could well be that tolerating false news, rumors and even outright lies are the price to pay for the civil liberties of free communication. Efforts to counter fake news could lead to censorship, the suppression of critical thinking and other approaches contrary to human rights law.
Leading social media platforms are already developing tools which would penalize false news websites; Facebook recently integrated fact-checking into its publication process and in March, started flagging fake news.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015