Fake news, usually in the form of misinformation, spread through social media and other new digital tools is eroding public confidence in the news media, a new study has concluded.
The social and new media – Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, skype and others have become enablers of such fake news.
The study pioneered by Penplusbytes said this was fuelling citizens’ lack of trust in the media and key governance institutions.
Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to promote good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and enhancing media oversight for effective utilization of mining, oil and gas revenue.
The study said in Ghana, the media landscape lacked systems, budgets or trained personnel dedicated to combating the menace of fake news.
Additionally, it was established that ‘bait and click’, a term used to describe a type of hyperlink on a web page that entices a user to click to continue to read an article, was the commonest form of fake news; fabricated content and false headlines without connection to content.
‘Bait and click’ headlines aim typically to exploit the curiosity gap, providing just enough to satisfy a user’s curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.
Globally, fake news or hoaxes, also come in the form of spin, outright lies and fabrications and the Ghanaian media landscape, was not excluded from this global epidemic.
Media experts at a panel discussion during the just ended World Press Freedom Day celebration held in Ghana, however, noted that although most people accessed news on social media, they still trusted the mainstream media – news agencies, print, television and radio as authentic sources of news.
Penplusbytes said it conducted the study to understand the prevalence of the problem of fake news and assess measures in place to combat the phenomenon.
The study was based on the use of a structured questionnaire administered to nearly 200 media organizations including print, online, media convergence and broadcast media spread in the 10 regions.
The findings showed that 82.5 per cent of the Ghanaian media did not have programmes or columns for educating the public on fake news.
Eighty-one (81) per cent of newsrooms do not assign staff to deal with fake news.
As high as 92 per cent of the newsrooms, agreed there should be regulations and laws to deal with the problem, something, many think was dangerous as laws could become tools to harass journalists and crash freedom of speech.
Mr. Kwami Ahiabenu II, Executive Director of Penplusbytes, who led the study, said the issue of fake news and misinformation had come to stay and there was the likelihood of it becoming a crisis.
‘However, there is a dearth of knowledge about its manifestation in Ghana and options available to deal with it. In light of this situation, we are excited that we are able to contribute to the body of knowledge on this subject while offering practical recommendations to deal with this problem.’
It recommended conscious and concerted effort by all stakeholders – government, regulatory bodies, including the National Media Commission, National Communications Authority, academia, private sector and the media houses to address the issue of fake news.
It asked that the menace should be tackled now and ‘not wait till it gets completely out of hand’.
By Lydia Kukua Asamoah, GNA