Fake news has been in existence since the earliest days of printing. But, the term re-emerged with a much vigour in the internet-era just before the last US election. ‘Fake News’ was named 2017’s word of the year. It is now seen as one of the greatest threats to journalism and democracy.
How can societies combat the stream of false - often fabricated - information that surge cross the Internet and through social media, polluting political debates almost everywhere? That question has bedeviled defenders of democracy.
As it is being debated across the world, the United News of Bangladesh (UNB), the sister newsagency of Dhaka Courier, shed light on it at its Annual District Correspondents’ Conference 2019. The theme of the conference, held on 9 February, was “Journalism in the Age of Fake News”. Information Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud who spoke at conference as the Chief Guest backed our proposal to put in place an “Internet Ombudsman” to regulate the social media.
The role of technology and tech accountability are clearly pressing and real challenges to Bangladesh, and it is precisely under such circumstances that our accountability standard is most needed. To develop an accountability principle, we need to discuss specific examples of unintended consequences of the functioning of the Net -- hate speech, discrimination, cyber bullying, defamation and their manifestations.
Current events in France have again demonstrated the pervasive and disruptive societal impact of social media. In a matter of no time has one of Europe’s most stable democracies been thrown into institutional chaos and the spectre of populist incitement is looming more dangerously than ever.
It is against this backdrop that we urgently need a serious debate on the roles and obligations of social media in democracy or even on “Net Accountability” in general. Hate speech and fake news regulation is expanding across the globe. The German Law (NetzDG), which entered into effect on 1 January 2018, is the prime example. It has inspired several countries to crack down on harmful contents and reinforces the legal arsenal.
All of these initiatives are commendable as they may highlight the importance of developing a coherent and workable accountability standard for the tech community. Among the solutions we propose is the creation of an “Internet Ombudsman”.