Cabaero: Fake news as a business

THERE are those who create or spread fake news out of pique or on the misplaced belief that doing so would help push their personal cause and defend their choice from critics.

There are those who do fake news systematically, as a way to earn from their writing and artwork. They may or may not believe in the person or office that the fake news seeks to promote, but they can earn from it.

These groups that make it a business to indulge in fake news are the ones that should be called out and targeted for legal action for fraud or for causing panic and division. Spreading fake news is bad enough, earning from it is worse because they benefit directly from the confusion and division that they sow.

As what the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said in its statement Wednesday on the spread of fake news, “Not only does this offend against the orientation of the human intellect to the truth, it is, more fundamentally, a sin against charity because it hinders persons from making right and sound decisions and induces them, instead, to make faulty ones.”

Even in international media circles, questions have been raised on who could be in the business of doing fake news. At the World News Media Congress held in Durban, South Africa in early June, media officials assessed the damage being done by fake news and, at the sidelines, wondered who were the persons organizing and making money out of it. Names were not mentioned but there were suspicions that offices doing public relations, and perhaps a few former journalists leading digital warriors were the ones making money.

The effective way to battle fake news may not be through a law that can be a problem in its implementation but by addressing groups doing fake news as businesses that have to be made accountable by law. Attack fake news by realizing there are businesses behind it. Demand to know if, as a business, they were registered with the proper government body. Do they have the required permits? Do they pay taxes?

This approach is not unique because this is the same one employed by United States federal investigators who went after the mafia in the 1930s. Mafia head Al Capone was convicted not for murder or robbery but for tax evasion. The purveyors of fake news are not like the mafia, but attacking fake news as a business could be a better approach to having more legislation.

There are other ways of going after fake news. One is through a media literacy program to educate the public on the purpose of journalism, responsibilities and limits of a free press, and the opportunities on social media. Another strategy is for media organizations to be transparent in the ways they produced and delivered the news.

The course of action with the least impact would be through a law with unclear provisions and can be used instead to curtail freedoms of expression and of the press.

Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on June 25, 2017.

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