Fake News During Electioneering

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Written by Victoria, from the Bloggers Association of Kenya

Kenya is currently involved in a General Election battle. Political parties are investing money, time and energy in their online and physical campaign presence.Television and radio are considered as the most prevalent source of news in Kenya. However, more and more people are relying on the internet to source their information. The internet can lead to a source of fake news.
According to the Conversation (https://theconversation.com/electioneering-in-the-social-media-age-77578), one trait of the online world is; people are able to comment on and discuss the news. While people are liable to come across fake news and conspiracy theories when surfing online, we should not forget that we are not passive receivers of information.
The internet might be just as powerful in slowing down the spread of fake news because people challenge it just as quickly as it spreads.
According to the Collins Dictionary, Fake News is false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.
These are discussions held online concerning the Kenya Internet Governance Forum by Kenya ICT Action Network.
Is Fake News a problem for Kenya?
What the internet and its ease of access have done is given a channel that reaches to even more people at a faster rate.
A fake news website might publish a hoax, then because it is getting social attention another site might pick it up, write that story as though it is true and may not link back to the original fake news website. From there, it becomes a chain reaction. At some point, a journalist at a largely credible outlet might see it and quickly write something up, because many journalists are trying to write as many stories as possible and write stories that get traffic and social attention. The incentive is towards producing more and checking less.
Companies such as Cambridge Analytica have been using psychographic techniques such as voter profiling during elections to determine who gets to hear what message. Advertising companies have used similar targeted approaches in marketing for years- why is it a problem for elections?
Great Marketers have since eternity relied on getting into the psyche of their target deep psychology here with trends capture.This explains why your favourite supermarket had just the chocolate brand you like while when you accidentally visit another branch down the road you find some other brands.
Therefore, any astute political campaign team would borrow this. The idea is to give them what they want or design it to appear as such. This includes fake promises and fake news which is very part and parcel of how the most political campaign is designed, even without the internet.
Fake News based on psychographic analysis targets a particular demographic who are gullible and will readily believe alternative facts to build on their preconceived notions. They themselves may never know they are consuming Fake News.
Internet companies through algorithms have thrived on giving us more of what we ‘want’. People should learn to, therefore, conduct due diligence.
Should internet intermediaries filter Fake News from their platforms?
Fake News is disinformation. Both sides of the political divide carry out disinformation. While we are keen to protect the Freedom of Expression, are we willing to justify disinformation as free speech? Fake News brings out the reality of click economy and big data. There is a general feeling that Fake News is here to stay hence the need to educate consumers to think critically and carry out due diligence.There is an opportunity for mainstream media to restructure and reclaim its legitimacy where they are relying on social media for news. Reposting social media, Fake News, as headlines have to stop. We should invest in traditional journalism.
We should be responsible and sober individuals on the internet and call people out on their fake news before it gets too far. This is a fair thing to do as the subject of fake news often feels like responding to each outrageous allegation. This is a waste of valuable time. Unfortunately, the more the fake story is perpetrated with no reply, the more it appears true.
A portal where potential fake news is gathered and each user can comment on their perspective on the story would be ideal. When the truth of the matter comes out, the correct perspective can be marked with a “verified” badge. Ideas like this address another aspect of fake news where the truth is not publicised as much when it eventually comes out. This is something both social and mainstream media are guilty of.
However, as much as we remain cautious, fake news is an area where regulators should exercise patience since the market is sensitised to the issue and working on ways to fix it. The proliferation of such ‘fake news’ presents good business case for major news outlets, which have been getting revenue, as there is a path to re-establish themselves as trusted news sources with resources to verify sources. To cub fake news, research and writing classes (which all students partake in) can be used to sensitise students and the media to do a double-check online whenever they read a sensational headline.
There is an increase in the number of fake news sites. Most people unknowingly rely on these sites for news. This has been made possible by the fact that people can register and maintain domain names that mimic credible mainstream media outlets with no other intention than to fuel fake news and maybe hate speech.
We should also question the internet user’s responsibility in verification of what one posts. If one cannot verify what they circulate, has that person given up his/her freedom to be a responsible user of the internet?
Indeed fake news and skewed reportage by main media outlets are already with us.The editorial policy of some houses is outright scandalous. In this time of election where perception of voters is critical, fake news will come in droves and due to compromises and skewed editorial policy by media houses on issues, agenda setting is purposed on set goals. It is worse when the main media depend on social media for its news items and worse when it uses social media content to reinforce a particular opinion and stand on an issue.When the media is sold to the highest bidder in a political environment or is compromised in being factual and balanced in its reportage, then it loses the moral ground to point out ills in the society.
Should Fake News be banned?
Suggestions have been made the world over on the ideal remedy for this menace but in democracies, it is hard because it goes against the principles of free speech. The Canadian Supreme Court has held in a case to strike down a false news provision of law that the provision was contrary to the constitutional freedom of expression.
The reality is that when the matter is one on which the majority of the public has settled views, opinions may, for all practical purposes, be treated as an expression of a false fact, the Learned Justices of the Court said.
In Kenya, the law limits the right to freedom of expression to the extent that one is not allowed to spread propaganda for war, incite people to violence, hate speech and advocate for ethnic hate. These limitations also apply to the media according to Article 34. The same constitutional provision also provides for the establishment of the Media Council of Kenya.
One of the roles the drafters of the Constitution envisioned this body to play is setting media standards while regulating and monitoring their compliance. It is with this powers that are expounded on in the Media Act that the Council accredits journalists while requiring them to follow the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism. While the standards for accuracy, integrity and accountability apply to journalists, these standards do not apply to bloggers.
Hence, bloggers cannot be held to have breached the Code when they post fake news online. From the angle of defamation laws, some of these stories are not defamatory. Neither do they constitute a breach of Article 33 (2). For example, the many speeches attributed to Presidents Robert Mugabe and Donald Trump about Kenyans and corruption. If they were to be counterchecked against the elements of defamation, they will fail. The statement might be false but not damaging per se, hence, not warranting a suit for damages.
Some of the sites are not even within the Kenyan jurisdiction and no claim of damage may be sustained against them.
The level of overall exposure to fake news can give some sense of how persuasive fake news would need to be and be pivotal during this election period. In practice, social media platforms and advertising networks have faced some pressure from consumers and civil society globally to reduce the prevalence of fake news on their systems. For example, both Facebook and Google are removing fake news sites (Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow 233) from their advertising platforms on the grounds that they violate policies against misleading content (Wingfield, Isaac, and Benner 2016).
Furthermore, Facebook has taken steps to identify fake news articles, flag false articles as “disputed by 3rdparty fact-checkers,” show fewer potentially false articles in users’ news feeds, and help users avoid accidentally sharing false articles by notifying them that a story is “disputed by 3rd parties” before they share it (Mosseri 2016).
In theory, these actions may increase social welfare, but identifying fake news sites and articles, either online or on paper, raises questions about who becomes the barrier of truth.

Written by Victoria, from http://bake.or.ke