Fake news or free speech: Top CEO conference panel examines the dangers of the age of digital media
DUBAI: Fake news, a term popularized by former US President Donald Trump to chastise sections of the media, is seen by many in civil society and the business community as one of the most harmful phenomena in the world. digital age.
There are several recent examples of misinformation, or even deliberate misinformation, being posted online and then amplified through social media, with real-world consequences ranging from stoking ethnic tensions to undermining public health initiatives.
Take, for example, the case of Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old father of two from Salisbury, North Carolina, who in December 2016 read an article online about an alleged elite pedophile ring operating at a pizzeria in Washington DC.
“Pizzagate”, as it was called, was a far-right conspiracy theory, which sought to link several senior Democratic Party officials to an alleged human trafficking and pedophilia ring linked to a restaurant named Comet Ping Pong.
After reading the article, Welch took a gun and drove the full six hours from his home to Washington D.C. where he opened fire on the restaurant. No one was injured in the attack, and the allegations have since been completely refuted.
Compare this example with footage released on May 13 of Israeli security forces attacking Palestinian pallbearers carrying the coffin of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot two days earlier.
Thanks to a video captured by witnesses on their smartphones and shared on social media, the whole world could instantly bear witness to this shocking incident, prompting world leaders to condemn the funeral assault.
During a panel discussion at the Top CEO Conference in Dubai on May 17, these two incidents were brought up as examples of the enormous power of social media as a means, on the one hand, of spreading misinformation. and, on the other hand, to expose the truth.
It is because of the positive characteristics of social media as a weapon of truth that the media and civil society are wary of onerous government regulation of these platforms, which could undermine freedom of expression.
“No one is against freedom, but we should also be against chaos,” Arab News editor Faisal J. Abbas said on Tuesday.
“We’re talking billions of people, billions of posts, it’s physically impossible to monitor everything and by the time they get there the damage would most likely have been done.
“If you remember back in 2016, the fake story that was spreading on Facebook and other platforms about the pizzeria that had a child abuse ring, and someone took a gun and went to shoot on the spot.
“The story has had more views than rebuttals. The crazier the news, the more content it creates, the more traction websites like Facebook gain,” Abbas said.
“There is no end to fake news, but we must continue to fight it.”
Indeed, the digital transformation, which has revolutionized information sharing in just a few short years, has left regulators and businesses struggling to deal with some of its most damaging manifestations.
Hussein Freijeh, chief executive of Snap Inc. MENA, who also participated in Tuesday’s panel, said governments’ efforts to regulate online platforms should not “remove responsibility from tech platforms” to fight fake news. .
“When we talk about regulation, there is a component of thoughtful regulation with the government, and we want to engage with that and help the government figure out what that means,” Freijeh told Arab News on the sidelines of Tuesday’s forum.
“Then there’s self-regulation, or platform regulation. And that’s our responsibility and how we deal with product design, and how do we put the policy in place to control that.
“And then (there is) self-responsibility of (content) creators and the community, and that’s an educational process. It takes a lot of technology to enable self-regulation, and that’s a process in which we must engage.
Although fake news was by no means created by social media, the speed and accessibility of these networks means that harmful and malicious behavior now has greater reach than ever before.
“Social media has given people freedom,” Khaled Janahi, president of Vision 3, told the panel on Tuesday. But, he warned, people need to use it correctly.
In separate comments to Arab News, Thomas Hughes, executive director of Meta’s oversight board, said social media companies have a role to play in tackling fake news.
“Content moderation policies should be designed to reflect the kinds of standards we want to set globally,” he said.
“As the (supervisory) board cannot hear all the appeals, when we select cases, we think about the type of precedent our decision could set, and we prioritize cases that have the potential to affect many users in the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Meta policies.
He added that Meta’s oversight board – formerly known as Facebook – has already issued more than 100 recommendations and Meta is committed to implementing the majority of them.
But conflicts like those raging in Ukraine and Ethiopia, according to Hughes, fuel the fire of fake news.
Conflict and instability “unfortunately go hand in hand with an increase in misinformation and disinformation – although this problem is very global”, he told Arab News.
Journalists can play a key role in combating fake news, according to Hughes, which is why many Meta board members have worked in mainstream media in the past.
“They are passionate about these issues and ensuring that more is done to protect journalists and freedom of expression, while also working to protect people from harm.”