Opinion Asia This Week Fake news is cheap, facts hit a paywall

Fake news is cheap, facts hit a paywall

If you wanted to fact check something, you need to go to an 'established' source. But these days, you hit a paywall. Why would you want to spend SGD20 for six months' worth of subscription to check one fact?

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We watch twenty-four news, listen to talk radio, read editorials. Information comes to us all day long. Everybody has an opinion on everything. Bloggers, journalists. Twitter feeds, WhatsApp viral messages and Facebook posts have become authoritative sources.

No one really pays attention anymore. We only scratch the surface, and that is deemed enough.

News – that kept people informed and understand the world and local politics, economics and social changes that greased the wheels of society, that kept the powerful honest, was broken by 2017.

The situation, if we can call it such, had different names. Some thought that the information overload was drowning us in too much news. Others feared we were in great danger of becoming newsless. Some believed we had too much free news: others, that paid for news leaving behind it a long caravan of ignorance.

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No one could agree on one path. The old media, it was thought, were lazy and corrupt. The new players were greedy and even secretive.

But most would agree that we were up to our necks in a torrid, ever churning ocean of information. Some of it true, much of it wrong. There was too much false news and not enough reliable news. In fact, there may soon be entire communities without news. Or without news they can trust.

There was a “swamp” of things we were learning to call ‘fake news’. US President Donald Trump used the term so indiscriminately it lost any meaning. In fact, the best traditional journalism could offer, he repeatedly told us – was fake news! We must believe him, not lying journalists!

We took it for granted, for centuries, that facts were reasonably easy to obtain. And, that over time, we’d developed pretty effective methods of distinguishing truth from lies.

But suddenly. It was not so easy to establish or even agree on truths. The realisation coincided with the near-collapse of the broad economic model for journalism.

People had – sort of – known that was happening, but in a world of too much news, they has stopped noticing.

In a world of too much to absorb, and never enough time, people skipped the story.

If you wanted to fact check something, you need to go to an ‘established’ source. But these days, you hit a paywall. Why would you want to spend SGD20 for six months’ worth of subscription to check one fact?

So chaotic information was free, good information was expensive. Today, anyone can publish anything with the ease of the web. A combination of local rumour and gossip can now be amplified instantly by horizontal transmission via any social media platforms.

Facts require patient work of digging and researching on what actually happened. Sifting through the rumour and chaff of gossip requires an alert and critical response by those responsible for putting up an item for mass consumption.

And because it costs money via paywalls, we prefer to let someone else do the checking and paying. Meanwhile, until proven wrong, we are happy to regurgitate and even embellish what we have just heard or read and pass it on to the next unsuspecting victim horizontally via social media platforms.

Bad information is now everywhere. Good information is now increasingly for smaller elites. It is harder for good information to compete on equal terms with bad.

The more invisible decent journalists become, the easier it is to denigrate their work. They hide behind paywalls and actually become part of the problem.

“Fake news, lies, failing. They are the same. Enough of the experts. Drain the swamp.”

Unfortunately, it is now the mantra of the vast majority. How many of you out there, would pay to read, say, this news portal? -/TISG

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