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Saturday, January 18, 2020
Our View

In an age of fake news, trustworthy sources are key

This year’s iteration of National Newspaper Week lands in the midst of a federal election campaign, making the facts surrounding fake news, trusted sources and reliability all the more relevant.

It goes without saying that for anyone watching things – and reality – unfold south of the border, the need to be informed and mindful of the truth is even more pronounced.

The role of news in our lives is today more relevant than ever given the political climate, which has generated plenty of discussion about what’s news – in particular, what is fake news.

In this climate, research has shown some 63 per cent of Canadians were unable to distinguish between legitimate news websites and fake news stories, and 65 per cent of Canadians are worried that false information or fake news is being used as a weapon.

Clearly, access to the truth is at risk. For the legitimate press, the biggest threat comes from digital sources such as aggregators, which “appropriate” news generated by actual journalists, promulgates fake stories and debate, and draws away revenues despite studies that show such advertisements to be ineffective.

We’re catching on that online sources such as social media aren’t the reliable go-to options where facts matter. That’s borne out by the latest research gathered in the 2019 CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

The survey of internet users around the globe, social media companies emerged as the leading source of user distrust in the internet – surpassed only by cyber criminals – with 75 per cent of those surveyed who distrust the internet citing Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms as contributing to their lack of trust.

Some 86 per cent of respondents said they had fallen for fake news at least once, with 44 per cent saying they sometimes or frequently did. Only 14 per cent said they had “never” been duped by fake news.

Facebook was the most commonly cited source of fake news, with 77 per cent of Facebook users saying they had personally seen fake news there, followed by 62 per cent of Twitter users and 74 per cent of social media users in general.

There is some hope Canadians at least are starting to sort things out, becoming more critical of social media postings. When asked which online source is the best for providing accurate and reliable news, two-thirds (68 per cent) of the us choose one that has its roots as a traditional media outlet. This figure is higher among those under 35 (71 per cent).

Besieged by new technologies, fragmentation in the market and what seems to be an increasingly detached citizenry, newspapers do have much to worry about, and much work to be done to regain their standing.

While more people go online to get their news, few people are aware that most of the material provided by news aggregators such as Google or endlessly rehashed by bloggers comes from newspapers, the organizations with trained journalists on the ground, attending meetings and poring through documents.

It’s that heavy lifting that separates traditional media from new forms, and why most Canadians still consider mainstream media as the most trustworthy source.

Not surprisingly, those in the industry see the changes as a threat not only their future by to the democratic function of the media. As we’ve seen in an increasing number of cases, the internet leads to a proliferation of lies, disinformation, propaganda and what would actually qualify as fake news.

The proliferation of information via technology is far more chaff than wheat, leading to information overload. Trouble is, most of it is useless, making for an ill-informed citizenry.

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