…GPA, editors urge greater scrutiny of news sources
By Tamica Garnett
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of the Stabroek News, Newsroom and Guyana Chronicle have made reports to Facebook, and are urging citizens to be careful of what they share on social media, following a proliferation of fake social media profiles being created in the names of the news agencies’ names and spreading fake political stories.
Over the weekend several stories have emerged, spreading fake news against the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) party and President David Granger. The party has alleged the action as a desperate fake news campaign by the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to spread their propaganda through fake articles. It said this is a clear indication of the extreme desperation by the PPP/C as its “weak and fanciful campaign promises” fail to resonate with the Guyanese populace. According to the APNU+AFC, the PPP/C has resorted to lies, propaganda and fake news as a last resort with less than one week to Elections Day.
The media houses note the situation as one that is difficult to monitor, and even harder to prevent or handle. Editor-in-Chief of Stabroek News, Anand Persaud, said that media house has made a report to Facebook and denied any connection with a news story that was spread by a website “stabroek.news.blog” that claimed an “exit poll” advantage for the PPPC in early voting done by members of the joint services last Friday. “That is a fake page, it’s very clear to anybody who viewed it on Facebook. They would know right away that’s not something from Stabroek News. There’s nothing that media houses can do about it to monitor all of these pages on a daily basis,” Persaud conveyed when contacted on Wednesday.
In the past fake news stories were being spread mainly by fake news sites; however scammers are upping the ante in trying to imitate authentic media houses. Online media house, Newsroom, had an entire fake Facebook page created against it. The page went to great efforts to mimic the media house’s authentic page, uploading the profile and cover photos from the official page, and sharing several of the media houses authentic stories.
However, among the stories shared was a fake story about President David Granger. The page was up for approximately three days. Editor-in-Chief of Newsroom, Fareeza Haniff, said that media house has also made reports to Facebook; however, they have not received a response thus far. “There is nothing that we can do per se. At the end of the day we have to guard against what goes out there and how the information reaches the people but it’s for the people themselves to also do simple fact-checking on how to spot fake news. Newsroom did its part by putting out a statement saying that the page is fake and we are in no way associated with it and that’s the most that we can do,” explained Haniff, who is also an executive of the Guyana Press Association (GPA).
The situation comes at a time when the GPA has been working along with the media fraternity and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to curtail practices that would result in misinformation going out to the public.
The GPA last December facilitated the training of media operatives ahead of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections. GPA President, Nazima Raghubir, noted that the GPA has not discussed the issue, but in her capacity as a journalist herself she has warned persons to fact-check news stories being shared on social media. “If it is being shared by a politician think twice about sharing it. Look at whether or not this is an official news, check to see if it is an authentic report or check to see if other media houses are reporting something like this,” Raghubir warned.
Raghubir suggested that the situation is being created in political quarters, saying that “I don’t want to point fingers but the media has nothing to gain from misinformation like this so clearly we are not the ones behind it. We only see this around an election period, and we know who the benefactors in an elections are and they have something to gain out of something like this.”
Raghubir said that it creates an added burden on the authentic media houses. “It creates a challenge in this whole world of gullibility. Because people are going to share the misinformation and still expect us to authenticate what they’re saying. They’re going to expect us to report it and if we’re not they’re going to say we’re not reporting the news, so it is a challenge,” she said.
She highlighted that it comes at a time when media houses have been putting in the extra effort: “The media houses have been dealing with putting information out there and have been practising some amount of restrain, trying to ensure they verify things before they put it out there. It is a challenge that media houses will also have to add to the plethora of things that they are already trying to verify.” She too acknowledged that there is little that can be done to counter or prevent the situation. “I don’t know how we can deal with that challenge. It is for the bodies involved in elections to be very vigilant to say this is not coming from us and kill the misinformation from onset”.