Education needed to help understand the difference between news and fake news

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At last there seems to be sensible initiatives to educate people on the difference between disciplined news gathering and made up fake- news and that not everything on the internet is true.

Fairfax Media recently reported that the Italian Government is trying out ways to help students to recognise fake news and conspiracy theories on-line, and understand how journalists must verify facts when developing news stories.

As Laura Boldrini, president of the Italian lower house of parliament, is reported as saying:

“Fake news drips drops of poison into our daily web diet and we end up infected without even realising.

“It’s only right to give these kids the possibility to defend themselves from lies.”

It’s an initiative that other governments should be monitoring so that they can develop similar programs – and not just for the young.

Look at the way out-of-date information sits on the internet and accessed as if it is still current and the way people don’t question the accuracy or source of unfounded claims, opinions and reports that they receive electronically. Too often such data is not only accepted as relevant and factual, but passed on to others.

It seems that when people receive a circular email that reinforces, or crystallises, their own views, they don’t want to check it out in case they find that it is, in fact, wrong.

Yet usually news and opinions distributed on the internet are easy enough to fact check by – by either checking with the website of the original source, or by any number of fact checking websites.

Indeed, the amount of unverified rubbish and fake news that proliferates on the internet can only tarnish it and hold it back as a reliable information source.

Companies such as Facebook and Google have recognised this and are looking at ways to improve quality.

Organisations and individuals also need to be careful not only of the information they take from the internet but also the way they distribute news and views through it. They also need to recognise the way language and terminology evolves and changes when it jumps from social media to the mainstream and back again to make sure they are saying what they mean to say.

The very definition of “fake-news” is a simple example.  When it was introduced by Trump he used it to dismiss critical stories that he disagreed with in the mass media, even when they were factual.

Now we have Australian politicians, and no doubt others, using “fake-news” as a substitute for “lies” and “falsehoods”, which is not its original use.

Organisations also need to be aware that while it’s important to use the internet to communicate with various publics, they need to be aware of how they may be seen if they use opportunities insensitively, or are not circumspect in the messages they send or the claims they make.

One minor example is that many organisations should consider whether their electronic communications suffer by having boilerplates that offend, or are viewed cynically.

For example, most people I know get fed up with being told by organisations to “think of the environment before printing off this document”.

These pious messages often comes across as being rather interfering (who are they to tell me what to do?) and even hypocritical when it’s an organisation that has no environmental credentials at all and also bombard the public with printed promotional material (that is often seen as a nuisance) when it suits them.

Similarly, being asked to agree to have all communications from an organisation electronically so you can get them quicker and help the environment is only partially honest.

I’m not the only one who feels that organisations who ask people to receive all communication electronically are mainly motivated by a desire to reduce costs, not the environment.

This is particularly relevant in financial services where organisations must send frequent statements and notices to clients and want to avoid mailing, handling and printing costs if at all possible.

Being careful of how you communicate through the internet, what you say, and how you say it, as well as questioning the accuracy of its content, are lessons society, government and commerce are still learning.