Todays Date
June 27, 2022

I. FAKE NEWS – A DANGEROUS VIRUS OF THE INTERNET ERA

Fake news is a contagious disease of the modern world, threatening gangrene on the truth.

By Zoran Ivanov

 

Media and communication theory do not yet have a precise definition of what is false news. It would logically be the situation of a news story about something that happened but didn’t happen or didn’t happen exactly as it is said to have happened. Or that somebody said something, but he didn’t say exactly what he said and as it is said he said.

The news, true or fake, through the many different Internet tools, from the numerous portals, to the social networks and many other opportunities offered by new information technologies, spreads at lightning speed and with a huge scope. On the smart phones, that we still improperly call phones by inertia, we can get up to fifteen pieces of news in a single moment. Over the phone, SMS, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and several other networks by voice, text, photo or video. Moreover, in more developed societies, even pre-school children have smart phones.

So, just like the real ones that carry authentic content, so is the fake news, fast and widely available everywhere, anytime, anywhere. The motives for producing and marketing fake news are different. From entertainment, through personal pain to political and business interests. In the first group, the authors are usually amateur individuals with no particular social interest other than having fun at the expense of another due to different character and other personal motives.

In the second group are the professionals. Even whole teams of different interest groups with well-defined programs, plans and goals. The content of their news is motivated by different interests. From politics, through business to the need to influence public space for domination over its truth. Organized production of fake news is usually embedded in the realms of business and politics.

Regardless of the motives, fake news is the contagious disease of the modern world, threatening gangrene on the truth. Not only do they twist or ignore reality, they also shape our mental state of mind. In a different picture, false, twisted, manipulative. The conditions created by the lie consciously marketed as true and accepted and experienced by consumers as true, have profound effects on social, political, business and all other processes locally, nationally and globally. Very often the individual and organized fake news is the cause of various individual, family, business, political and other traumas. Due to such consequences of constituting and placing false news driven by various motives, the democratic world has in recent years opened wide fronts to combat fake news. It does so in a dedicated and comprehensive way as if it was a dangerous biologically transmitted virus and thus defines its activities. With strategies, plans, projects, budgets. Identically as it is done to protect the population against various communicable epidemics.

Macedonia has not been spared from the tide of fake news. On the contrary, as everywhere in the world, the democratization of society, the plural environment and the availability of new information technologies, social networks and numerous electronic communication tools, besides all the advantages provided by such a modern free and open environment, is very suitable for the fake news virus. And, like many democratic states, ours has also hinted that this contemporary evil will be dealt with a defined, organized and systematic program. The government has recently released a document, practically an initial draft version of a global plan, strategy to combat fake news.

This and the following text for next Friday as a second thematic sequel will only touch on some aspects of the fight against fake news. But there will also be some moments that justify the fears of the Macedonian public of the state’s over-involvement, of its patronage over public space as a threat to endanger freedom of expression and democracy in general.

The government’s proposal for decisive action against spreading fake news starts with the premise that misinformation is an attack on democracy and that fighting it is one of the main challenges to preserving it. Emphasizing the need for tools that will act to prevent and expose fake news and in particular their authors and distributors. The Government concludes that the Republic of North Macedonia has faced massive dissemination of misinformation on both social networks and traditional media over the past two years. Some of the misinformation was shared by territories of other countries. And that the country has been marked as a country of fake news. This is especially true as in 2016, when it was revealed that Veles had a large number of fake websites and Facebook profiles spreading misinformation in the United States during the presidential campaign there. And because of such warnings and outsiders, the Macedonian government, as a precaution and as an action, has offered its plan to tackle misinformation as an organized and continuous action to suppress fake news.

In short, the plan encompasses several global segments such as security measures with the development of new disinformation protection protocols, then, opening up of processes for creating a media literacy strategy as one of the important segments, as key defense against fake news and within that framework activities of the institutions will be covered and their maximum openness and transparency towards the media and citizens will be addressed. The plan further envisages special shift towards the civil sector as a government partner through which, as the government promises and announces, it will develop educational activities by including media literacy topics in educational programs. The document also promises to support and be an active partner of the civil society sector in delivering programs through media literacy workshops and trainings, and that media literacy education will also be provided to public administration employees. In the draft strategic document, the government further commits itself to supporting and being an active partner of the civil sector in the implementation of programs and trainings for general citizen media literacy.

What has particularly sparked a stir among the newsrooms and part of the non-governmental sector dealing with the media, public and communications are the allegations in the draft action plan to fight fake news, according to which the government will introduce criteria for the media accredited to follow government events and press conferences as well as requiring competent authorities to create a register of identified and disclosed misinformation as well as a list of sources disseminating misinformation. These allegations in the government document also raise doubts about its best intentions. Fears for democracy and freedom of thought are particularly challenged by the government’s intention to form a separate group to combat misinformation, which would include exclusively civil servants from various security, reporting and other similar state structures.

As stated above, this text is the first and only initial on the topic of fake news and the role of the state in its suppression. The second follow-up next Friday will focus more on the reactions and doubts of the media and the civil sector on freedom of expression and on the Macedonian democracy in general. This is due, above all, to particulars contained in a government document suggesting increased state influence and a degree of involvement of state institutions in the media sphere and in the public democratic space in general, all under the pretext of combating fake news.

 

*The text is written exclusively for the purposes of Inbox 7. For each republishing, a consent by the editors must be obtained. Inbox 7 does not always agree with the opinions and views of the authors in the debate section.