In today’s digital era, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection may become a content creator, blogger or a ‘journalist’.
Citizen journalism, which is described as non-professional journalists gathering, analysing, and disseminating news and information, has grown in popularity in recent years.
Citizen journalism and fake news are two distinct subjects. However, they are often intertwined, with no real regulatory boundaries. As a consequence, they sometimes contribute to the production and dissemination of fake news that may impact people’s security.
Citizen journalists do not have the training and expertise, nor the resources to verify the information they have acquired, and may have biases that influence their reporting. This can lead to the spread of rumours or news that are not based on factual “evidence”, but on hearsay or speculation.
The decentralised and often unregulated nature of social media can make it difficult to distinguish between reliable, and unreliable sources of information, which can further complicate the issue.
Unconfirmed information, if unchecked and uncontrolled, can spread quickly, causing panic and confusion, and potentially put people in harm’s way.
Implication of misinformation or fake news on people’s security
Events such as the Arab Spring, the Covid-19 pandemic, and Malaysia’s general election (GE) have proven the effectiveness of new media as agents of change.
These three events exemplify the implications of unverified news and information that spread without control, and how they can influence the outcome of political, as well as social events that affect the people.
They also highlight the use and abuse of social media, including the spread of misinformation, propaganda, hype, and repression by governments, and the how they can amplify the people’s uncertainties and insecurities.
During the Arab Spring, the authoritarian leaders of the affected countries were deposed. Major uprisings and social violence occurred in many of the adjacent states, as a result of the spillover effect.
False rumours and exaggerated stories were spread in order to manipulate public opinion and inflame tensions, contributing to the escalation in violence.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the widespread dissemination of misinformation and disinformation related to the outbreak, dubbed infodemic, was fuelled by citizen journalists through social media platforms and other online channels.
Government and health authorities had to establish a dedicated portal to provide verified information, and launched public awareness campaigns to encourage individuals to fact-check before sharing information.
This resulted in a lack of focus in curbing the spread of the virus. Valuable time and resources was wasted in combating the misinformation and false narratives.
During the Malaysian general elections, citizen journalists spread disinformation and news, aimed at discrediting the Election Commission, opposition candidates, and inciting racial and religious tensions throughout the country via social media platforms.
Their key aim was to manipulate public opinion and discredit the ruling party. The impact of citizen journalists spreading fake news and misinformation during general elections will continue to be a major concern in Malaysian politics for the foreseeable future.
Curtailing the spread of fake news
Curbing the spread of fake news requires a comprehensive and collaborative effort from individuals, social media platforms, and news organisations.
The impact of fake news on people’s security can be minimised by promoting media literacy and fact-checking, to ensure the sharing of accurate information.
It has to start with the people, as a means to manage the situation, followed by the application of the appropriate technologies to contain the situation.
The enactment of laws and regulations, in addition to the coordinated and collaborative actions of a group of stakeholders, are key to counter the spread of fake news.
This will also revive the trust in traditional mainstream media, ensuring that information from news sources is accurate and reliable.
Public safety and security will suffer serious consequences if fake news continues to proliferate through citizen journalism, both online and offline.
However, if appropriate safeguards are implemented, it can offer a credible and an alternative source of news and viewpoints, where traditional media outlets may not have the resources or interest, to cover these specific issues.
The level of disinformation in Malaysia still impacts the people’s security, as it has not been adequately addressed through existing legal, and non-legal means.
It is challenging to battle disinformation using a single method. It necessitates an all-encompassing approach and a collaborative effort from all stakeholders.
However, the efforts should not be overdone, to the extent of depriving citizens of their freedoms to voice their opinions.
As the media landscape continues to evolve, citizen journalism will likely play an increasingly important role in shaping the way we consume and share news and information, now and in the foreseeable future.
Brigadier General Norli Hisham Alwi is a pilot with the Royal Malaysian Air Force and is currently attending the National Resilience College.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.