Faking It For Effect?

IN A recent poll, some 40% of Singaporeans wondered whether the news they read was true or false.

The survey also found that 61% of those polled said that they worry about reading fake news online to “some extent”, with one-third of them concerned about fake news “a lot”. Blackbox Research, the Singapore-based company that conducted the survey reportedly polled 1,000 Singaporeans aged over 15 years.

There are three aspects about the execution of the survey that offer food for thought.

A Wide Age Range

First, there was no deeper indication of the demographics of the survey respondents apart from them being 15 years and older. That is a very wide age tier. Perhaps the research agency did actually look at a sizeable proportion of respondents from different age tiers, but that wasn’t reported.

What Is Fake News?

Second, there was no definition stated on what constitutes fake news. There is a lot of confusion about the term, and as far as we can tell, there is no universally accepted definition of fake news. Indeed, it is too broad a term, and should be well past its use-by date by now. However, it continues to be given legs by governments and mainstream media around the world that won’t stop harping on it.

One pertinent question that arises is this: Is fake news something that is generous with the truth as it aligns readers to a certain agenda, whether sourced from a government or from non-government sources?

If that’s the case, mainstream and alternative news sources and Internet blogs are all culpable of producing fake news.

Still, this should be differentiated from rants or nuisance calls on the Internet. Rants should be taken at face value and ignored. Meanwhile, laws are already in place to deal with the equivalent of nuisance calls on the internet. There is no need for more legislation.

Timing Is Everything

Third, the survey was conducted shortly after the Minister of Law, K Shanmugam, said in Parliament that the government is “seriously considering” how to address “the fake news issue” and will announce its position upon completion of a review.

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From an operational point of view, a research agency conducting a survey just after a Cabinet Minister talks about the topic in question in Parliament is good business. The research firm expected that there would be interest in the outcome of its survey and likely confident that the results would be picked up by the media. It was proven right, with mainstream media reporting its key findings.

Nonetheless, generally speaking, surveys like this should be taken with a heavy dose of salt. They are simply not rigorous enough in their execution, yet they help to open gateways for important policies to be shaped with their results. More rigour is needed in such surveys.

However, the cost of a survey is directly proportional to how rigorous it is, how comprehensive the questions are, and how many respondents are targeted. So, the next time you see any newspaper reporting a survey, you should ask yourself a simple question: Are the results of the survey in line with any broader agenda that you have recently heard about?

The Real Agenda

If results of a survey tend to back up the agenda, then your course of action is simple. Ignore the survey results.

For what it’s worth, the more experienced a reader is, the more likely he will be able to differentiate what is real news and what is fake news in the mainstream and alternative media, and in Internet blogs. The poll results above themselves suggest that people are more discerning, with only a third saying that fake news concerns them “a lot”.

Maybe it is a sign that Singapore society is maturing faster than we think. As we wrote in this column in January, fake news broadens the mind. It is only those who are trying to protect the status quo who will rail against it. At the end of the day, they are the ones who will be left behind.

Thus It Was Unboxed by One-Five-Four Analytics presents alternative angles to current events. Reach us at 154analytics@gmail.com

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