- By Aisha Butt
Fake News has destroyed the lives of millions and now threatens governments
There are three main categories of Fake News:
The creation of totally or partially untrue, misleading or doctored stories with the sole intention of attracting readers.
In print or online the goal of this is to grow readership in order to secure a large amount of financial remuneration.
Sensationalism is used by amateurs and well known media companies alike, some larger media companies in particular those few which are licensed and regulated mix sensationalism with actual news to try and remain undiscovered.
Use of Fake News to change the general public opinion on a subject matter be it in or against the favour of a public figure, voting outcome, political party, event, brand, product, company or even entire nation/government.
Germany and USA have both officially cited Fake News as the cause for several major political upsets in recent years with Germany becoming the first nation to make the practice illegal in the West.
In Oman Fake News is punishable by 1 year imprisonment and a fine of around $3’000 USD, in Germany Fake News is punishable by up to 50 million EURO fine, but no criminal record, arrest or imprisonment. The UK and USA have no prohibition as they classify it as fictional writing and entertainment, legal action for defamation and slander often results in minuscule fines, no criminal charges and the content is often not removed instead prolifically redistributed across multiple blogs and social media before being accidentally picked up as genuine news by an undiligent reporter for a real press corporation.
Individuals, companies or government/corporate/other bodies whom for any given reason have a vested interest or vendetta in or against an individual, rival, competition or institution often go about a Fake News anti-PR campaign to discredit the word and or image of their victim.
By twisting the tiniest elements of fact, usually designed and forced into existence by the perpetrator in the first instance into a mine field of falsehood the Fake News distributor can avoid breaching many of the pitiful protection laws in the west.
Celebrities and even the British Royal Family are constantly accused of horrific sexual crimes, even being reported as found guilty in courts of law, 99% of the time no legal action is ever taken, occasionally the Fake News is taken seriously and innocent people are arrested as was the case of Sir Cliff Richard who was arrested over paedophilia allegations which were reported in Fake News by some of Britain’s best known newspapers as factual criminal evidence. In most western nations, especially the UK this is done because only Sexual and Terror related criminal allegations require no proof, sometimes no trial and often no evidence at all for a conviction, they also carry the longest sentences and harshest of conditions, far more than murder or any other type of crime.
The social and legal stigma destroy the victims, even if not convicted they will never work again, have social restrictions and be publicly humiliated by a population which is sorrowfully all too willing to believe anything with no intellectual thought, or basic cognitive reasoning.
The German political mainstream is getting increasingly nervous about the effect that the rise of fake news might have on federal elections next autumn. Fake news either by influential fake news sites, print papers or content of established platforms or by social media, hacking or misinformation are viewed as a serious threat to the democratic process, particularly since the US presidential elections.
From rumours that Merkel was in the east German secret police, the Stasi, to others providing “legal and court verified proof” that she is Adolf Hitler’s biological daughter, Germans are also proving themselves susceptible to false information. The German population have proved to be just as blindly gullible as the rest of us.
Arguably one of the most blatant example of fake news to hit Germany so far occurred earlier this year over reports that a 13-year-old girl of Russian origin, known as Lisa F, had been raped in Berlin by refugees from the Middle East.
The story received extensive coverage on German, French, Dutch, Czech and UK media who reported the allegations that she had been abducted on her way to school and gang-raped as court verified facts. The attack turned out to have been fabricated, as Berlin’s chief of police was quick to point out. According to Berlin’s public prosecutor’s office the girl had spent 30 hours with people known to her, and a medical examination proved she had not been raped.
Having been shared widely on social media and through international, supposedly credible news sites, hundreds took to the streets to protest at the “attack”, along with far right and anti-Islam groups. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister went so far as to accuse Merkel’s government of “sweeping the case under the carpet”.
Violent attacks on Muslims in Europe rose as a direct result of the story. Many innocent people, mainly Muslim women were injured as a direct result. No legal action was ever taken against the writers or those who re-published the story, the story remains widely available online and in print archives.
Over the last 10 years, France has seen a sharp increase in the readership of alternative, far-right sites, blogs and social media operations, referred to collectively as the fachosphère (“facho” is slang for fascist). Promoting views including anti-immigration, nativism and ultra-nationalism, these sites are run independently, rather than by a political party. They feed into a zeitgeist of distrust of the traditional media, both on the far right and the far left.
Traditional media is not innocent of Fake News, many traditional media corporations including licensed press groups have intentionally or accidentally redistributed many of these Fake News stories.
Samuel Laurent, head of Le Monde’s fact-checking section, Les décodeurs, said: “In France, there isn’t a wide presence of totally invented fake news that makes money through advertising, as seen in the US, Germany and UK.” However, he added that France was seeing increasing cases of manipulation and distortion, particularly during election periods.
One example, in the recent primary race to choose the French right’s presidential candidate, was a campaign on the fachosphère to claim the centre-right candidate Alain Juppé was linked to the Egyptian political party The Muslim Brotherhood.
The accusation dated back to local elections in 2014 when distorted stories circulated on a far-right opinion website, accusing Juppé of wanting to build a “Mosque-Cathedral” (there is no such thing in any faith or culture) in Bordeaux, where he is mayor. The story grew and was embellished during the primary campaigns to portray Juppé Muslim Brotherhood-linked “Ali Juppé”. Juppé said a “disgusting campaign” had been run against him.
Juppe’s reactions however at calling it “disgusting” to be linked to the idea of building a Mosque showed his true far-right colours.
Laurent said: “I think the French presidential election campaign [next spring] will be fraught with this type of thing.” In January, as the presidential election campaign prepares to kick off, Le Monde’s Les décodeurs will launch a database of questionable sites that portray themselves as information sites. The real concern is the so called credible and traditional media that distributes such stories either by error or intentionally.
The recent Paris terrorist attacks were also subject to conspiracy theories and distortions, including reports this summer that gunmen who killed 90 people at a rock gig at the Bataclan last November had mutilated their victims.
These reports cited partial evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into the attacks, without adding that the inquiry also heard officials deny that any mutilation took place.
There is also an ongoing row over fake information websites and traditional media outlets’ content about abortion in France. The lower house of the French parliament has approved government plans to ban fake abortion information websites which masquerade as neutral, official sites with free-phone helpline numbers but which the government said promote anti-abortion propaganda and pressure women not to terminate pregnancies.
The women’s minister, Laurence Rossignol, told parliament on Thursday that anti-abortion groups in France were setting up sites “that appear neutral and objective” and copy official government information sites but were “deliberately seeking to trick women”.
She said these sites often had helplines run by “anti-choice activists with no training who want to make women feel guilty and discourage them from seeking an abortion.”
In Italy, the spread of Fake News has become such a worry for the government that a top official in prime minister Matteo Renzi’s circle of advisers recently filed a defamation complaint against a mystery Twitter account which has since disappeared, who tweeted under the name “Beatrice di Maio” and routinely took aim at Renzi’s government.
Twitter has a general policy of non-compliance when it comes to giving personal information to authorities seeking to take legal action against such accounts.
In Italy the personal attacks against Renzi have been stepped up ahead of the critical 4 December 2017 referendum. In one case highlighted by Italian newspaper La Stampa, a particular website of a widely credible newspaper and TV broadcaster falsely claimed that a rally in Rome held by supporters of Renzi ahead of the referendum were actually his opponents.
Members of Renzi’s Democratic party have complained that “mud-slinging” websites controlled by the anti-establishment Movement, which abhors traditional political advertising, are to blame for spreading false and defamatory news about the government’s activities and personal attacks against key officials. Likewise well known political activists accuse the government controlled media of spreading Fake News about sexual and financial crimes committed by their strongest of challengers, often making arrests over the Fake News “evidence” that they themselves wrote.
In one example, a Twitter account showed a picture of Elena Boschi, the reform minister, on the phone. It suggested she was sharing insider information with her father, who was a top executive at Banca Etruria, a Tuscan bank. The bank was rescued by the Italian government in 2015 but there is no evidence that Boschi helped her father or committed wrongdoing.
Fake News is not just a western problem, a Burmese journalist recently put it like this: in the old days, people went to the tea shop to get their news. Now, they go to Facebook.
After decades of isolation under successive military regimes, Myanmar’s 51 million people began to come online rapidly in 2014 after telecoms reforms. They leapfrogged the era of dial-up and desktops, starting with mobile phones and social media. For many, Facebook is synonymous with the internet.
With scores of voices clamouring to be heard for the first time, it’s a dynamic and dangerous space of falsehood.
As well as “#foreveralone” statuses and a barrage of updates from staunchly Facebook-first media organisations, news feeds are crammed with fake content. Much of it is tinged with religious hatred. With tensions between the majority Buddhist and minority Muslim populations running high, many are ready to believe vitriolic nonsense about Islam and its followers, often propagated by nationalist anti-Islamic accounts set up for the purpose.
A Muslim journalist was recently the victim of a campaign by some of these accounts, when a widely followed nationalist posted pictures of him juxtaposed with images of an unknown Rohingya Muslim militant. The post claimed he was involved in attacks on border police and called for his immediate arrest.
Accusations of terror or sexual related crimes are often levelled at Muslim businessmen and public figures to discredit Islam and the individual’s power and influence in a very anti-Islamic Myanmar. The majority of the false accusation result in arrest and imprisonment for the innocent victim of the Fake News, mostly propagated via social media.
As reports emerged that Fake News had influenced the US presidential election, China trumpeted its system of a “internet management”, portraying freedom of speech as broken when it can affect the outcome of an election.
Yet China is not immune to the phenomena. In one high-profile case, a journalist was paid more than $70’000 USD to write negative stories about a construction equipment manufacturing company, sending its shares tumbling.
The Fake News pandemic is truly a global concern with USA, UK, EU nations, Myanmar, India, Brazil and Australia also being among some of the worst players in the horrific social disease.
Oman holds the key to eliminating Fake News
Countries such as Oman have completely outlawed the practice imposing hard, yet fair custodial and financial punishments on those found guilty of publishing anything damaging to any individual, company or the interests of Oman. Offering security and protection for all of Oman’s citizens, businesses and national interests.
Freedom of press does not mean freedom to lie, it does not mean freedom to destroy lives and families and livelihoods.
The International Code of Ethics for media and press corporations clearly prohibits non-news items and prohibits publication of materials which are detrimental to the lives of others unless under a legal obligation to do so out of the interest of saving lives.
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