The challenge is colossal, but there appears to be a welcome new resolve on the part of social media behemoths such as Facebook to address it
The scourge of fake news and online radicalisation demand urgent answers
Facebook and other social media are emerging as the principal sources of news for people across the world. Sixty-three per cent of Arab nationals, for instance, say that they get their news from social media. But the downside of absorbing information from social media is that they are often not vetted for accuracy. In the US alone, some 31 per cent of all social media users between the ages of 10 and 18 say that they have shared a news item online only to find out later that it was misleading. But the damage cannot always be undone; corrections rarely are as effective as intentionally inaccurate news.
Fake news, however, is one side of the coin. Radicalisation is the other. As British prime minister Theresa May told the UN in September, “too many innocent people [have been] murdered” by individuals radicalised online. If the deluge of fake news and the scourge of radicalisation aren’t dealt with, the consequences may become impossible to control. In a recent interview with The National, Jonathan Labin, Facebook’s managing director for Middle East and North Africa, acknowledged the scale of the problem, reiterated his company’s stance and elaborated on the steps that are being taken to combat it. The US-based social behemoth is hiring 3,000 new recruits to review content. Using a combination of sophisticated algorithms and artificial intelligence, these cyber sleuths will weed out content that spreads hate, incites violence or disseminates lies.
There appears to be a welcome new resolve on the part of social media companies to address the problem. Recently, Twitter suspended advertising by RT and Sputnik, the Russian broadcasting services, amid fears that they might be interfering in US politics by pumping out misinformation. Social media platforms can counter the spread of fake news by entering into alliances with credible and trusted sources of news. A programme to enhance media literacy among users, highlighting the distinctions between a genuine news item and a fake one, may also help. Fake news affects us all, and all of us should play a part in clamping down on it.
Follow The National's Opinion section on Twitter