ISLAMABAD: New digital platforms, including social media, have unleashed innovative ideas to disseminate information and educate the masses on different issues, it has emerged.

But at the same time, it has become difficult to differentiate between authentic information and hoaxes or disinformation.

Such flow of disinformation, or fake news, is accelerating and affecting the way individuals interpret the developments taking place daily.

Many information systems, even citizen journalism, have been polarised and there has been a decline in public trust in the traditional mode of journalism.

“I don’t know what to believe, whom to trust and from where to find authentic information,” said Zara Hassan, a university student, who wanted to seek some clarification on a religious matter. “Every person on social media shares information without verification, or checking the source,” she lamented.

Anti-social elements take advantage of public curiosity and misuse the new media platforms to achieve their nefarious designs or let down their opponents by launching propaganda campaigns.

In this situation, it has become essential to address these issues without undermining the benefits of social and traditional media.

A glaring example was the recent EU DisinfoLab’s report on how India was releasing news through hundreds of fake media houses against Pakistan and China.

Earlier, during a meeting with a delegation of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (Dastoor), Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb urged the media organisations and journalists to play a proactive role in curbing fake news and propaganda. “The balance between media freedom and a sense of responsibility can prevent the growing division of society,” she said.

Media experts believe it is important that government, media outlets and other stakeholders work together and promote news literacy and strong professional journalism in their domains.

In the given circumstances, it has become essential for individuals to be cautious and exhibit maturity by verifying the received news or any information before sharing it with others.

This can be achieved through multiple sources, examining the evidence to support claims, and being aware of potential biases or agendas in the news. Social media and journalism platforms should invest in tools that identify fake news, reduce financial incentives for those who get monetary benefits from disinformation and improve online accountability.

Besides, fact-checking and regulation are some of the main measures that can be taken to combat the negative effects of fake news.

Since there is a difference between freedom of speech and hurting someone’s religious sentiments or making fun of others, there is a dire need to ensure appropriate legislation and implementation of existing regulatory laws so that people keep themselves away from objectionable content.

Sensing the situation, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has improved vigilance on the content circulating through different modes of media to prevent the spread of objectionable, hate-fanning, and other material falling in the blasphemy category.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2022

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