There are a lot of things that clamor for your attention.
There’s that most recent notification, that friend request, and that red icon on top of your unread messages. There are posts from your friends’ recent hangouts, and then, sandwiched between the selfies and inspiration quotes that line down your newsfeed are ‘news’ that seem to attract a traffic of reactions—from the growing number of likes and angry reacts, it is matched with a scandalous photograph which compels you to click. Unsurprising for something with a catchy headline, it earns more than a hundred comments. It becomes a rabbit hole of debates as another angry commenter tries to make a point, but amidst all the back-and-forth opinions, you spot at least one comment that summarizes the story in one word: Fake.
In response to the growing number of fake news circulating in the web, solutions like Fakeblok and Google Fact Check have emerged. Locally, the recent anti-fake news bill is among the proposed solutions to put an end to the cesspool of information.
Upon initial impression, it seems like a good rebuttal to the army of ‘alternative facts’. After all, if penalties loom against the perpetrators, the spread of fake news possibly won’t be as rampant. But when you really think about it, another question follows closely: Who determines what is fake, and who gains the power to determine what is real? It is easy to imagine a council that deliberates which fake news should be taken down, and at first, it seems even convenient. If there were some authorities from the government to intervene, we would be seeing less of false news, because the law (along with a hefty fine) could be enough to intimidate an offender. However, the same convenience could mean giving power only to the selected few, and the same intimidation could backfire. What seems like an easy solution could also easily restrict the freedom, not only of the press, but also of anyone who wishes to speak against a powerful figure.
The bulk of the anti-fake news bill’s appeal is anchored on mitigating the spread of misleading information. And in a time when the public is encouraged to be vigilant and report fake news themselves, a legitimate command that forbids the spread of misinformation seems to be in order. It shows promise at limiting the power of false news but, at best, it is vulnerable to abuse. When the decision to consider whether a news is fake or not, it is planned in the hands of people seated in power, there is room for the danger of having it used to satisfy political vendettas.
Like great turning points, we need more than just band-aid solutions that simply cover, but do not treat. We do not just think of ways on ‘how to punish’; we also ask ‘how to resolve’. A global dilemma that leaps and travels across borders, when we look for answers to suppress misinformation; we have other choices than simply to penalize. We have the better choice to be vigilant; we have the better choice to protect our freedom without letting it be abused.
It seems like a daunting task to attempt to answer the question, “So how does one really stop fake news from spreading?” If it has grown to be in such a massive, global scale, the answer, then, must not be so simple. But the reason why fake news generators often thrive is because they have readers. If you would look at it as a matter of stopping fake news altogether, it could not rely on a person’s single-handed effort. False information can appear as long as there is someone with an ill intent to create it; however it is only capable of damage when it is told and shared. False news is ever only powerful when someone believes in it. Rid fake news of its believers and so goes its power; inform more people of the truth, and even the catchiest click bait won’t mislead.
It is one thing to encounter numerous fabricated stories, but reading false news and being critical enough to deliberate its authenticity is another. Ultimately, it thrives on divisiveness and uninformed opinions—and just maybe, we have a better shot for a solution when we attempt to unravel its pathetic roots before jumping into finding which punishment is best. Instead of finding shortcuts to end the spread of fake stories, it could be better if we thought of ways on how to spread the right ones. In a time when we are surrounded with instant-everything, and information is just a click away, essentially, you do not fight fake news with a threat; you do not scare it with a lawsuit. When you’re in conflict with alternative facts, you’re served with lies, you do not fight by pointing fingers—you fight with the truth.