The fundamental old school very boring rule is to verify, make sure you have contacted the correct people and don’t be in such a hurry to get it out first, according to Zarrar Khuhro, a journalist who has spent a lot of time debunking misinformation or fact-checking on Twitter where he has a 232k followers.
He was bringing up these basics at a discussion on rights and responsibilities of the digital media itself at the second day of the International Conference on Media and Conflict held in Islamabad by the Pakistan Peace Collective and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Wednesday.
Dawn reporter Ramsha Jahangir pointed out, however, that newsrooms are still very new to fact-checking and many of the older journalists don’t take it seriously. Reporters consider it the job of the desk to do it because their job is to just “report”. An estimated 80% of journalists in one survey said they had never been trained in fact-checking.
Of course, this means that there is a big difference between “news” and “journalism” then, pointed out Haroon Rashid, the editor of Independent Urdu, a purely digital outlet. There are very few news websites that really give news as it happens, he said. Also, there are very few purely digital outlets. Most of the digital newsrooms in Pakistan are linked to a TV channel or newspaper or both. This is why he feels that people really don’t understand the difference between Digital Media and Television Media. This lack of understanding can also be found in newsrooms themselves and can affect how reporters and their managers go about doing their journalism.
This confusion, the panelists seemed to agree on, means that information coming out on the internet, or social media, is treated as news by digital and TV newsrooms or hybrids. The same principle of fact-checking must apply. As Khuhro put it: “Just because something is trending does not mean that that it is real or that it is news worthy. All it takes is 25 bots to make anything trend.”
So not just journalists, but people who use social media, officials in government, need to know what misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods are, argued Jahangir. If something is going viral, it needs to be checked out. People should know when something is false and try to find out. She gave the example of how she checked if a Coronavirus list jpeg being shared online was correct by just plugging it into a search to see how authentic it was.
People with ill intentions then leverage or use social media to spread hatred or misleading information that can be harmful to the public if it goes viral because it affects how people act or make decisions. Haroon Rashid joked that there used to be a cable operator mafia in Pakistan but now it’s the social media mafia in the whole world.
This is why Rashid felt that stories need context, background and explanations. It isn’t enough to just give an update that five people have been killed and leave it there. You have to give the bigger picture and explain the wider implications.
Jahangir added that Mass Communication departments training new journalists need to update their curriculum (along these lines) as they are outdated. For example, there should be courses on social media and critical thinking.
In the end, Wahaj Siraj, the CEO of Nayatel, told the young people in the audience that they should not be disheartened if their content is not viewed online. They need to keep at it and produce good stories and content regardless, and eventually people will gravitate towards it.
Warsi is a student at National University of Sciences and Technology and volunteered to cover the ICMC as part of its collaboration with Samaa Digital @MSabhiWarsi