Virtual World, Fake News and Responsible Second Chance

  • By Zar Chi Nyein By Zar Chi Nyein 
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    News is the reports or noteworthy information about recent or important events. In the past, newspaper and journal were the only source we could reach out, read it seriously, regarded as trustworthy. As the technology gets advanced, every online user can be a citizen journalist nowadays. They  have their own platform where they can update it, copy and share any news they encountered and improve it if they feel like it, regardless of boundary with assistance of advanced tools available online.  This has encouraged wider circulation of fake news and mis-information and sow the seeds of dilemma too. Nowadays the most popular online media in Myanmar is said to be facebook. Everyone is allowed to create a virtual life; share their opinion freely; portray their identity generously; pass on information explicitly. It’s one characteristics of  citizen journalism, everyone can be a journalist meaning collecting and dissemination of information and photos of their surrounding handily. The flow of information is as unstoppable as  a wild mountain stream. As one sided news reporting has been deep rooted in our society, media pluralism is still weak, propaganda can not be differentiated from news, all those facts cumulated and produced genuine effects on our people. That impact can be summarised into one word, “ low news literacy” to reflect the current situation of our people. Most people rely mainly on social media as their news source. They wait for update information and opinion for current affairs on social media, constantly checking their newsfeed, not hesitating to click like and share any news from Facebook celebrities and news pages. There are 5 sources identified as the most quickest flow of  news and information: 1) news pages and blogs2) personal pages and blog of celebrities 3) Official facebook pages of the Government bodies4) popular public figures5) Newspaper and Journal pagesThose sources are usually recognized as the most popular places where people look for their information. Moreover, specific individual can become the main source of information based on current issues, for example in a time of natural disaster, many regions were suffered from flood and rumours about destruction of dams had been widely spread online in 2015. One local officer from the Dam project constantly uploaded update photos of the dam he was working on to console people’s fear. The number of followers to his account immediately reached to tens of thousand in a couple of days. People had been watching his account for update news and that was the start of media platform changes in Myanmar. Facebook has become the most effective media platform to respond emergency situations. Local people who has access to current affairs take photos and post it on Facebook with a few lines of description. Sometimes, the news is totally fake and sometimes it is right but described from biased perspectives and generated adverse effect. sometimes the news has been reflected partially which opens more different interpretations. In a time like this, news literacy level of the audience has portrayed the consequences. As the news has been reported by un-trained citizen journalist who has no or limited knowledge of media ethics, facts and opinion in his news open to mis-interpretation, and then low news literacy rate,  and free to share button fanned the flame within a minute. If the comments are to be made based on the history of Myanmar from the time when internet is widely available for public and social media has become the most popular platform, Myanmar people are soft, kind-hearted, sensitive and EMOTIONAL.  Anger and sympathy are different faces of a coin. The more sypamthized on one side, blaming on anther side was escalated, led to hatred and sometimes they even wanted to justify the situation.  For example, once the photo of middle-aged man sleeping on a bus went viral with a short description of a stalker who harassed a girl on a bus and pretended to be asleep when the girl complained.  The photo was widely shared on facebook with angry comments. Later the true story was revealed, that guy was a normal citizen who fell asleep on the bus without committing any wrong deed. He and his family was humiliated and dare not go out of their house for weeks. His reputation was hurt but  no remedy for such grievance was paid off. After a week, the case was forgotten in virtual world but still affected in reality. That case can be assumed as defamation and the person who created such a harmful story was a citizen who was keen on attaining many followers and wants to be Facebook celebrity. This kind of incident was usually created by people who wants fame (15 minutes of fame as we named it).
  • And it is effective indeed by generating thousands of followers within a few days. The current statistic indicates that there are 15 millions facebook users in Myanmar and 70% of them are from rural areas who believe everything on internet is true. It is important for those people to have access to true and reliable information in timely manner. Additionally, those people should be taught news literacy skill. Thereafter, I’d like to provide a few suggestions on how to verify the news online in a short period and how to respond it. If you find an unusual news (yes, many news are unusual but it is always right to have doubt);1) how many reliable news pages have reported this news? 2) Do you know there are many fake news pages online? (Reliable news pages have blue mark next to their logo (it doesn’t mean the news is always true but it presents some credibility as blue marked medias are more likely to follow media ethics and have their in-house regulations to respect). How many blue marked news media pages have covered the news? 3) Read the comments. Some users who know the truth likely to share their comments and link of sources in comments.4) Read the whole paragraph not just the title and decide wether you should share it or not after you have read it. Don’t believe everything on internet including the post shared by your friends, person you know and trust. Bare in mind that those people may sometimes be naive like you, share the news based on personal ties not on critical thinking. 5) Beware of responsibility and accountability for the post you created, shared and supported rest on your shoulder. You are the source of information for others who trust your judgement and redistributed your idea and belief. Your carelessness may generate further misunderstanding that may have consequences. If you share a fake news or mis-information unintentionally, please make sure that you share the rightful information to turn the wrong into right. There is no one who has not done wrong in his/her life. There are only people who deny their wrongful deeds and insist on it to protect their ego. But it is not a question for a good citizen who adhere the truth to undo their mis-deed. Please prove that you are a good citizen, a person of truth, the one who are trustworthy by correcting your mistakes. A virtual world allow us to create a life of our desire and to delete a life that failed to meet our expectation. It is our opportunity to create  a beautiful life full of responsibility and accountability , a second chance may be. Be cautious not to harm our perfect virtual lives by our clumsy clicks.
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