The Influence of Fake News on Asian Society

Asia Thinkers interview journalists from Hong Kong and Singapore to get their opinion on the spread of fake news in Asia.

According to Webwise, fake news is defined as ‘stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers.’ Usually, stories are created to either influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers.  Traditionally we get our news from journalists and media outlets that are required to follow strict codes of practice. However, the internet has enabled a whole new way to publish and share news with very little regulation or editorial standards. 

The Fake News Business Model

The internet and social media has made it easy for anyone to publish content on a website, blog or social media profile and potentially reach worldwide audiences. Asia is not immune to fake news, especially in countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore where citizens have access to sophisticated social media. With so many people relying on news from this platform, in particular, influencers, creators and publishers have used this to their advantage.

Fake news can be a profitable business, generating large sums of advertising revenue for publishers who create and publish stories that go viral. The more clicks a story gets, the more money online publishers make through advertising revenue and for many publishers, social media is an ideal platform to share content and drive web traffic or allow groups and individuals to promote their own agendas – often for financial gain.

Photo: Courtesy of SCMP HK

Asia Thinkers recently interviews a former HK journalist about the spread of fake news in Hong Kong: 

What can you tell us about the spreading of fake news in the media in HK?

The internet has made it all too easy to publish and consume content without regulation or editorial standard, and like anywhere in the world, it’s no different in Hong Kong. Fake news predominately disguises itself in the form of advertising, with no MTR station, bus or billboard left bare from the promise of miracle slimming treatments and Hong Kong’s most successful maths tutor, however we are lucky in that we still have relatively free access to a variety of news sources and online content that can help to assist us in coming to our conclusions and forming our own opinions. I think that with the recent protests, there is far more fake content circulating than ever before and it can be hard for the public to know what to believe with so many versions of protest events out there. It is almost impossible to verify the authenticity of every image, video and piece of journalism.

As an HK journalist did you find yourself being pressured to following the trend of providing fake news?

News has the potential to make good money. Sadly, you see it all too often in Hong Kong where there will be police attending to an accident on the roads and then hordes of pedestrians who are all trying to get the best shot to then sell on to local newspapers. There is undeniably a certain amount of pressure as a journalist to deliver news that is ‘hot off the press’ and I can see how it would be tempting to use an image that’s out of context ‘for the views’ or write an article purely for reaction – especially with all the political events that have been happening over the past sixteen or so weeks. It all comes down to integrity at the end of the day. I don’t personally feel any pressure, but I can understand how someone could.

 In what areas of the HK media would fake news impact the most?

In my opinion, the online platform is the most targeted and in turn, the most vulnerable. We are heavily reliant on our phones and forever filtering through endless information where the lines are blurred between credible or fake news. Untrustworthy news sources are pitching intriguing and heavily ‘click-baited’ headlines in an attempt to attract views and propaganda is becoming more prevalent. Consequently, all of this is supplying the public with misleading information. It can be difficult for credible and trustworthy media outlets to contend with.

Can you tell us some details of how fake news was spread during the HK protests?

The South China Morning Post has recently been publishing some interesting articles about this topic, and the issue is, there are so many types of social media being utilised during the protests that it is near impossible to filter and interpret credible news. Different camps are spreading “selective images and videos to sway public opinion, and disinformation is not only part of the game but a “psychological warfare” tool wielded by both sides.” As I mentioned earlier, there are heavily click-baited and sensationalised news articles accompanied by sloppy journalism where news outlets have not bothered to fact check information and most importantly, hundreds of videos and images taken from all sorts of angles and viewpoints by both reporters and the general public alike. People’s emotions are ruling their opinions and videos and images are the bases of this. This type of news is entirely subjective – which makes it all the more concerning in this instance.

 Asia Thinkers interviewed a Singapore influencer and travel blogger:

What has been the impact of fake news on social media in Singapore?

Fake news has been a major problem in Singapore especially over the internet, users will often pass on information via Facebook or Twitter without checking if it is correct. But this is a worldwide problem. Everyone likes a good story and writers can make money and potentially influence public opinion.

Does the Singaporean public really care that the news may not be true or do they just enjoy the entertainment value?

Singaporeans are no different from the rest of the world. There is so much media content available via the internet and social media platforms that the content will appeal depending on your interest, but the negative side of fake news is that it can negatively influence your opinion about individuals, politics and social issues. Many of my fellow bloggers accept that you can no longer trust the integrity of information or news and we are careful as to what they pass on to readers.

Do you feel the publication of fake news has raised doubts with Singaporeans about the integrity of social media?

Many of my fellow bloggers accept that you can no longer trust the integrity of information or news and can’t take it on face value. We have seen the spread of fake news in Singapore with examples from Malaysian Durians being not safe to eat to kidnapping of children outside schools – both have been proven untrue. Social media users in Singapore are starting to question the content of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and the Singaporean Government is taking steps to educate the public on how to identify fake news.

Photo: Courtesy of Pride Singapore

In Part 2, Asia Thinkers will look at the negative impact of fake news and further interview journalists from HK and Singapore on how citizens can identify fake news and how governments intend to control this.

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