At a global workshop on disinformation that started in Taiwan, Taipei on September 10, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby, who led the US delegation in a visit that further gives substance to the Taiwan Travel Act signed into law by Donald Trump in March 2018, said ,” Taiwan’s 2020 elections are only a few months away, and China once again seeks to use disinformation to undermine the vote, divide the people and sow seeds of doubt in democratic systems through numerous channels.” Taiwan has asked Facebook and Twitter to suspend or close a number of accounts spreading malicious news and rumors about the island. In August, Facebook and Twitter reportedly closed about 200,000 accounts with ties with Beijing that were responsible for a barrage of misleading reports and information about Hong Kong’s ongoing protests.
When the term “fake news” comes up, people usually think of posts on social media with rather fantastic, implausible stories. In former times, fake news could also refer to the ‘legendary’ stories granddads told their kids in which how Odysseus-like they were during Chinese Civil Wars. Or, fake news could also just be the rumor spread in the allies that cute boy Johnny falls in love with his married math teacher. Thinking of “fake news”, sometimes it is better to think it as “fake information” in avoid of being too media exclusive, focusing only on newspaper or tv news. However, with the internet becomes the latest and seems to be the only means of communication for the majority and it is also to be abused to spread lies and misinformation, our attention now again is drawn to the media itself.
What role does digital media play in spreading fake information?
Let’s talk about the ‘successful’ formula of media’s spreading fake news in Taiwan. In Taiwan (and I am pretty sure in a lot of countries as well), most of the media make profits based on the readership, and so does the digital media. The more readers and audience read or watch their ‘products’, say the articles posted online, the more money they earn. But what kind of articles are ‘well-written’ enough to draw readers’ eyes ? After the audience analysis and marketing research, the media finds out the answer. The first strategy to write a ‘good’ news is to create sensational titles for the articles. The so-called “click-bait” news are mass produced. For a digital media user, from time to time he is exposed to tens of hundreds news every single hour. As he browsing through pages, he always ends up something that is “interesting” to him. And here comes the second strategy. Media finds out more and more people in this era using digital media like to utilize the key-words searching function provided by automated search engines. And the algorithm of these automated searching engines will “help” the user list out all the information which carries with the same key words. This contributes to the “content farm” phenomena, which implies some media companies will try to generate maximum but also resembling textual contents news. The media could focus attention on certain events and then places them within a field of meaning. While in the process of “framing” information through digital media, the authenticity of a news often becomes more distorted and, fake.
In faced with bombarding fake news, as an intellectual, we should always be aware of that on an information is presented in front of us through the screen, the “space” of this information is being cut into “onscreen” space and “outside” space. We could always keep in mind that as seeing through a window is to the implication of a larger world extending beyond the frame what seeing a presented news is to a full story hid behind it.