We all know: Don’t believe everything you read. But in a social media-led world where fake news works so hard to be king, how do we avoid getting burned? Because the most crucial messages could be lost if we can’t discern the facts from the fiction
As part of the press, we pride ourselves on accuracy. On bringing our readers scrupulously fact-checked news and intelligence. We discern opinion from facts; striving to be the observers of history, an impartial eyewitness to key events, who relays the facts precisely as they play out.
These were the stern instructions of my journalism tutors – the raison d’être of the news media and the very ethics upon which journalists build their careers and reputation. And for me they ring louder now than they ever did, years after I graduated and every single time I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to compose news, features, analysis, blogs, reviews – everything. Even my opinions (and sometimes my emails) are subject to fact-checking and challenge.
Of course, we journalists do make mistakes. We are humans, after all. But what is happening in the world of news right now falls far beyond slipping up. And it is happening constantly.
As I review the contents of this latest edition to inspire these paragraphs in my Leader, there will be writers out there cooking up the latest click-bait fiction.
As I consider the impact of fake news on business – reading numerous articles, opinions and research, and replaying interviews I’ve conducted with risk managers to form my views – some writers will be creating their views from scratch, conjuring fact-less prose of sensationalist nonsense.
Despite only recently becoming such a well-worn buzz phrase, fake news is actually nothing new. But – and just for the record here, I’m happy to call this my opinion and not necessarily label it fact – today’s proliferation of alternative facts has created its own thriving and disturbing market – a churning market of rumours that can bring down reputations, people and companies, with far-reaching consequences.
It is a very real threat. So agree 84% of businesses surveyed by Kroll, who say they feel threatened by market manipulation as a result of fake news, most commonly fuelled by social media.
Then there is the type of fake news that is perhaps even more insidious and potentially damaging. The type that may have elements of truth but is not completely accurate. This type of fake news is probably less easy to spot but it can be used to great effect to discredit real facts caught in the blaze. It is this very type of false reporting that the Brazilian Amazon rainforest fires have been marred by this summer (see our Analysis ‘When fake facts fan flames’, pp4-5).
Fact: Parts of the Brazilian rainforest are ablaze. False: All of the photos shared were of this summer’s fires. And this is the worst the rainforest has seen. When worldwide celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna tweeted photos of what appeared to be the current Amazon rainforest fires raging but turned out to be old, what ensued in the world’s media and across social media platforms was a maelstrom of misinformation, accusation and confusion.
Some commentators appear to be politicising the situation for their own gain, using the fires as an opportunity to discredit Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s policies. Others wish to use the uncertainty to distract from the very real climate change concern that was sparking a public outcry.
It’s a complex story, one where sources are hard to pin down and facts are hard to discern, but if it is prompting serious debate about the risk of deforestation and climate change, then we must continue to fight for the facts.
As Sarah Gordon, chief executive at risk consultancy Satarla, says: “Attention to something like the
destruction of any natural resource is a good thing. The problem comes when incorrect or misleading information discredits those facts that are correct. This can then be used by opposing parties to derail initiatives that are attempting to solve problems.”
Fact fans, stay vigilant.
Also in this edition
COVER: WHEN FAKE FACTS FAN FLAMES
Will the public outcry over this summer’s Amazon rainforest fires be unjustly dampened by claims of ‘fake news’?
AMAZON FIRES EXPLAINED
Conservation science experts dig into the causes of the fires blazing through the Amazon and how we can tackle them.
If the Belt and Road Initiative is to succeed, China must work harder to combat corruption.
A NEW DIMENSION OF RISK
Ferma’s incoming president-elect Dirk Wegener is on a mission to attract new talent and diversity to our industry.
CAN HE FIX IT?
Wherever BHP’s Robb Eadie lays his hat – he finds problems and sets about solving them.
OUR EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FUTURE?
In tomorrow’s leadership, we can expect to see a truly even gender balance. And this will benefit everyone.
THE REVOLUTION MARCHES ON
Our #ChangingRisk campaign continues to energise and motivate our profession towards real change.
Heavy industry is becoming leaner and smarter as it makes better use of the IoT and AI. But with these advancements come inevitable vulnerabilities.
SAILING CLOSE TO THE WIND
Surety bonds provide the reassurance needed to fully embrace renewable energy investment.
Cathay Pacific’s 9.4 million-customer breach offers an eye-opening example of how not to handle data. Could it now impact Hong Kong’s notification rules?
- PDF, Size 7.58 mb