The booming new media marks the start of a new era and keeps expanding rapidly. Can you imagine what is it like in the future? Is it a utopia or dystopia? Before thinking about deeper questions, I want to put out of my head for a minute the crush I had relating to new media and review what has happened recently.
On 24th July, the headline of World News Daily Report, ‘Malaysia: Crown Prince Converts to Catholicism, Shocks Muslim World‘, was shared by many on Facebook. It reported ‘the only son and heir of Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, Tengku Amir Shah, has sent a shockwave throughout the Muslim community worldwide as what People’s magazine has deemed ‘the real life Romeo and Juliet story of our time’. It then added ‘The Malaysian prince known for his outlandish sex orgies and drug addiction problems, having been through rehab no less than three times in the past 18 months, has promised to change his ways and claims to be a new man’. This news has been a hit of Malaysian online forums and some local sites by the following hours. Personally, it’s a hideous news of Malaysia I’ve ever heard, because religious issue is a very sensitive in Malaysia where Islam is the official religion and the majority Malays are all Muslims. Subsequently, I even posted this on my WhatsApp’s group,friends followed up like ‘Beyond shocking’, ‘God at work in Malaysia, thanks for sharing’, etc. But the next day, The Malaysian Insider clarified this is a fake news, and claimed that World News Daily Report is a political satire web publication and fiction producer. I apologised in the group for sowing fake news as a journalism student. From then on, I raised up my skepticism of online sources.
On 11th August, 3AW 693 drive show conducted a shocking interview. The interviewee was alleged to be Omar al-Shishani, a military commander of ISIS, claiming “If we can swim there, if we can catch any of your boats … we will come to Australia”. However, the scoop became a spoof eventually. IS expert from United States, Aaron Zelin told The Australian “My initial reaction would be scepticism that it’s actually him”. Monash University terrorism scholar, Greg Barton analysed “On the balance of probabilities, it’s unlikely that Shishani would choose to do an interview with 3AW. Maybe CNN or the BBC would be worth his trouble in getting his message out”. The International Business Times reports there is previously no evidence of Omar al-Shishani speaking fluent English. A week later, the ABC Media Watch revealed this interview is bogus.
These two fake news have a common factor that is the initial sources are both from the internet. When media practitioners are becoming more relying on the convergent social media platform to grab information to conduct news for the audience, less fact-checking can happen, or sometime there are some sources online even veteran journalists cannot tell the authenticity. In this way, more and more fake news coming out of newsroom and be published. Maybe I would say that’s the flaws of social media in terms of providing raw material to the media industry. However, not all the news professional misconduct can blame on the social media.
There was an ethical controversy in Australia goes back in 2009. The nude photos of famous Australian politician Pauline Hanson published by The Sunday Telegraph. However, it ended up in the editor Neil Breen public apology as it has proven that the pictures they published were fake and they were not of Pauline Hanson, but belonged to other Russian woman. It’s a fake news, again. As a matter of fact, editor Breen has suspected Jack Johnson who took the photos beforehand, because he’s already known that story has got loopholes in it. But Breen gave a run anyway for some reasons. The newspaper paid Johnson $15,000 for the images and the story made international headlines that week. I’m sure The Sunday Telegraph have made $15,000 back eventually, but the credibility that lost in the scandal shall not be recovered on a short-term.
The social media as one of the greatest innovations in this age impacts on almost every aspect of human life. It is a good opportunity for media industry to interact with and improve its efficiency and productiveness. At the same time, it’s a challenge for media practitioners to engage with, because it means journalists may lose the role of gate-keeping and need more fact-checking on first hand source. There is a constant debate between journalists that how social networking is changing journalism. The fact is, to a short-term, social media is underestimated by media industry according to a media conference. If media industry wants to thrive in social media context, the key thing to do is focusing on transparency, accountability and autonomy.