The expression ‘fake news’ has come into widespread use ever since the U.S. presidential election in 2016, and it is becoming increasingly important to be wary of information from unknown sources. Expert in global journalism, Professor Tsutomu Kaneyama (Dean of the College of Global Liberal Arts, Ritsumeikan University), explains fake news as ‘news items whose sources are vague and that seek only to appeal to the interest of the reader’. According to Professor Kaneyama, ‘The quality of news in the modern era has begun to deteriorate, and objective reporting is under threat.’
Fake news: designed to grab attention
Why are fake news stories created in the first place?
‘Fake news originates from the situation wherein people posting stories online can earn money based on how many hits they get,’ explains Professor Kanayama.
‘Another phenomenon we see is large, supposedly trustworthy, media outlets conveying factoids that are strongly colored by the views of the information provider or media outlet instead of reporting the facts. When an outlet prioritizes viewer ratings or hits by releasing poorly sourced information of uncertain origin, what it is releasing is a factoid, which, in extreme cases, can be called fake news.’
Offering examples of fake news from both home and abroad, he continues:
‘Major events that garner people’s attention inevitably generate factoids and fake news. During the French presidential election in May 2017, a story was released online claiming that presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron had set up a shell company and opened offshore bank accounts in a tax haven. This was picked up by politically right-leaning online media. Likewise, in Japan, after the Kumamoto Earthquakes in April 2016, a false rumor about lions escaping from a zoo spread online, causing distress and confusion.’
Fake news erodes the reliability of information
Of course, not all media outlets have been tainted by fake news, but the issue at hand is the negative impact such stories have.
‘When the so-called “old media” - newspapers, television, and so on - was mainstream, general trust in the press was relatively high. There was broader public agreement then that no matter which outlet you accessed, you could obtain reliable information. It was up to the general public to equip themselves with media literacy and become smart consumers of information,’ says Kaneyama.
With the rise of the internet and the spread of social media, however, the landscape has changed completely.
‘Fake news primarily spread via social media is presented as authentic news. This is why many people mistake it for news from traditional media outlets. As a result, we are witnessing a phenomenon where the more fake news spreads, the more the public comes to distrust the information disseminated by the media, and in turn, even the media, once trusted by the general public, is now viewed with a wary eye. People no longer have a surefire way of knowing which sources can be trusted, which outlets will provide them with the facts,’ explains Kaneyama.
The fake news that stems from an information provider prioritizing his or her own profits or views is dangerous because it casts doubt on the reliability of that information provider, but, perhaps even more importantly, it also has the potential to undermine the reliability of information in general.
Moreover, modern people, swamped with work and getting on with their lives, do not necessarily have either the time or emotional leeway to scrutinize the quality of information.
Using information released on a personal basis to share opinions on issues: raising awareness of the need for global citizens
Fake news and factoids exist in an ocean of limitless information. To survive in the modern era without being misled, Professor Kaneyama argues that it is not enough simply for recipients of information to develop the right mindset.
‘Discerning information intelligently is an incredibly difficult task, and, as such, is something we should quite rightly expect news professionals to do effectively for us.
'Yet over and above this, ordinary people also have a responsibility to be proactive in processing and broadcasting information themselves as opposed to simply being passive consumers.
'If individuals are enabled to broadcast information about social issues, not only does it open up the possibility of connecting with people of similar opinion at home and abroad, but it gives the thought and desire required to create a better world real shape. Since we already live in a world where almost everyone has access to tools for utilizing text, audio, and video to spread information, perhaps it is time to look afresh at the role of citizens in communicating information.'
Though the reliability of information and news continues to deteriorate in the modern era, in the midst of this, the process of ordinary people gleaning information for themselves will, in itself, surely lead not just to the power to broadcast, but also to greater discernment - the skill to judge whether the appropriate level of expertise and effort has been applied to the information received for broadcast.
In this context, recognition is growing for a new form of literacy – one that recognizes that simply digesting information passively received is not enough.
And thus the stage is set for a new pillar of education in the age of global information: self-broadcasting literacy.
Professor Tsutomu Kanayama Researcher's Database:
The College of Global Liberal Arts: