Journalism, known for giving a voice to the voiceless, has become a contentious and decentralised industry where anyone can now contribute to the news bulletin provided they have a phone with a recording device.
The hanging question is whether the fact that anyone can now be a source of news-giving makes journalism a more diverse and democratic industry, but one where it is now easy to spread false information? The issue has been debated for a while, but with a rise in fake news during the Covid-19 pandemic, there is arguably no better time to fully assess the media industry and how the influence of laymen journalists is impacting the reliability of our daily news.
The problem in today’s society is the ease that technology and its spearheads, such as Facebook, give to others to spread false information. The majority of those who publish various information via social media are not professional journalists. Such people are not legally obligated to follow the same strict codes of practice when it comes to giving certain types of information.
Over the years, news has increasingly fallen into the hands of non-specialists.
Modern technology gives people direct access to express and share their views on anything under the sun. Anything they are passionate about. And during a global crisis, like the one we have now, this can be very dangerous. With over four billion people worldwide actively using the internet, it is becoming extremely difficult to decipher which news sources are trustworthy.
A large number of false information has been circulating concerning Covid-19, bringing attention to how ordinary people are running and ruining the news. This exchange of vast quantities of false information only increases uncertainty and mistrust at a time when unity is needed.
Put simply, we are now not only dealing with a deadly pandemic, but an infodemic too. This is when there is: ‘an excessive amount of information concerning a problem, such that the solution is made more difficult’. With our Government already under enormous strain, people with no background in journalism are adding to the pressure by being able to pollute public opinion on various policy issues.
WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned company, announced that it is looking to limit message forwarding in a bid to stop the spread of fake news after many Covid-19 hoaxes were found circulating via their social media platform.
The WhatsApp voice note stating that the UK will face 900 Covid-19 deaths a day, although denied by Public Health England as fake news, had caused an increase in anxiety amongst the public. There is however another question to be asked. To what extent can we blame ordinary people for sharing false information, if they don’t know that it’s false? We are certainly living in more naïve times where we’ll believe more readily something passed on from a friend or a known contact than an independent news source that may have its own political agenda.
As one Tory MP suggested, sharing fake news related to the coronavirus outbreak on social media should be an offence. During volatile times such as now, the same rules and regulations followed by journalists should also apply to members of the public that wish to share information. This is the only sure way of stopping the spread of misinformation — whether deliberate or not. Public organs at the heart of this crisis, such as the NHS and the Government, do not need the added pressure of misinformed individuals stepping in to run the news.
The digital age is all about opinion-giving and ease of information transmission. Anyone can publish their work online and enforce an opinion, even if that means the ruin of someone else’s name and reputation.
A growing number of people (myself included) as well as government figures, believe it’s time for individuals to be held accountable for what they share online. If you are confident enough to write about an issue and pass that information on to others, then be prepared to face the jury should that information prove to be false. And if you think it’s your right to share information, without checking it’s source, then you are equally accountable for not having bothered and contributing to the confusion.
Responsible news is the only acceptable news.