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Govt promises steps to fight misinformation

Faisal Mahmud, Dhaka
Govt promises steps to fight misinformation

A vernacular daily in Bangladesh made international headlines in 2009 by republishing a report of The Onion—the notorious satirical publication—that the “Apollo moon landing had been faked”. “We thought it was true, so we printed it without checking,” then associate editor of the paper confessed to The Time magazine. The paper registered an apology and retraction afterwards. But they were simply unlucky as many get away with even more serious blunders these days.

Such blunders, under the euphemised title 'fake news' or 'misinformation' is not going away any time soon. In fact, 'fake news' is nothing new. What is new is the premise of the conversation about fake news that has blossomed since the advent of the Internet and online news portals.

To fight such misinformation and spreading of fake news, the government is going to celebrate its Digital Information Day today with the theme 'Fact-checking first, then Internet share' this year. Talking with The Independent, NM Ziaul Alam, senior secretary of the ICT Division, said though fake news is not something new, it doesn’t mean that there should not be any concern. “Democratic systems are designed to facilitate the participation of an informed populace, and the spreading of misinformation affects this,” he noted.

Ziaul said it has become far too easy to create a network of fake sites and fake social media accounts, enabling those with questionable ethics to make money or sway political opinions of gullible and naïve individuals online.

“Unfortunately, we see such ludicrous stories from those questionable websites going viral all too often. Especially, the emergence of social media has made it all too easy to disseminate false information. But quite a large number of people are fed with dangerous misinformation along the way,” he observed.

According to him, it would certainly help if legitimate mainstream sites did not greedily trade their reputation and credibility for a few bucks by allowing these scam and propaganda posts on their websites.

State minister for the ICT Division Junaid Ahmed Palak said at a programme on Tuesday that the government has taken three steps to fight fake news and misinformation. The first step is raising awareness, the second is increasing the technical capacity, and the last one is to properly implement the existing laws meant to fight false news and information.

“We have already established a digital security agency. The Digital Security Act has been enacted by Parliament. Now, we are planning to establish a digital literacy centre,” said Palak.

The state minister also said there are several tools to screen out false and fake news in English, but such tools were not yet available for news and information published in Bangla. “We are going to develop a total of 16 tools to filter out misinformation in Bangla,” he added.

He also said social media slike Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn had a responsibility to deal with the fake news phenomenon. “If we don’t get help from them, it will be tough for us to combat false and fake news,” he added.

Many experts, however, believe that too much reliance on the government to combat fake news might be tricky.

Qadaruddin Shishir, founder of BDfactcheck, Bangladesh’s largest fact-checking platform, wrote in a column: “There are lots of examples where the government appears to be a ‘fierce anti-fake news’ actor, but the reality says otherwise.”

Citing an example, Shishir said that in December 2018, Facebook and Twitter claimed to have “removed accounts and fake news pages linked to the Bangladesh government that had posted anti-opposition content,” days ahead of the national election. “Fact-checkers in the last two years debunked many fake news stories spread online by people linked to the government. Sometimes, ministers peddled misinformation targeting the opposition. Even opposition groups targeted the government and the ruling party. To put it precisely, the people in power are vocal against some sort of fake news, but they are evidently reluctant to fight the monster as a whole,” he wrote.

“Such unresponsiveness from these three stakeholders—the general public, the media and the government—cannot help but embolden the epidemic of falsity in the digital sphere,” he added.

Legal expert barrister Tanjib-ul-Alam told The Independent that 'fake news' has no specific legal meaning. “It is a broad term used in social networks and the media to describe untrue information of all kinds. Legally speaking, it is important to differentiate fake news from other types of untruth,” he said.

Tanjib also said allegations based on untrue facts has been subjected to numerous court proceedings all over the world, including Bangladesh, for decades now. “They relate to untrue information about a specific person. Unlike the expression of opinion, which is largely protected by the constitutional freedoms of expression and press, an individual may, of course, take legal action against false or unproved factual allegations,” he added.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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