Fake news, usually in the form of misinformation, has seen rapid growth in Ghana and in the world over due to social media and other new digital tools, and eroding public confidence in the news media, a new study has revealed.
The social and new media, mainly, Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, skype among others, have become the enablers for accessing such fake news with their attendant adverse impact on citizens’ lack of trust in the news media and key governance institutions, the study indicated.
The debut study by Penplusbytes (www.penplsbytes.org) on Fake News in Ghana has shown that the Ghanaian media landscape did not have systems, budgets or trained personnel dedicated to combat the menace of Fake News.
The study dubbed; “Media Perspectives on Fake News in Ghana, (ww.penplusbytes.org/fakenews) has also established that in Ghana “bait and click”, a term used to describe a type of hyperlink on a web page that entices a user to click to continue to read an article, was the commonest form of fake news; fabricated content and false headlines without connection to content.
Bait and click headlines aim typically to exploit the curiosity gap, providing just enough to satisfy a user’s curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.
The Penplusbytes study said globally, fake news or hoaxes, also comes in the form of spin, outright lies and fabrications and had been around for a long time with the Ghanaian media landscape, not excluded from this global epidemic.
However, media experts in panel discussions at the just ended World Press Freedom Day celebration marked in Ghana noted that although most people access news on social media, they still trusted the mainstream media, made up of news agencies, print, television and radio broadcast media as authentic sources of news.
Penplusbytes said it set out to undertake the study in order to understand the prevalence of the fake news problem whiles assessing the measures in place to combat the phenomenon, and so the study was based on the use of a structured questionnaire administered to nearly 200 media organizations in Ghana made up of print, online, media convergence and broadcast media spread through the ten regions of Ghana.
The study results showed that 82.5 per cent of the Ghanaian media did not have programmes or columns for educating the public on fake news.
In assessing the capacity of newsrooms to deal with fake news, it came out that most newsrooms, 81.7 per cent did not assign staff to deal with fake news.
Also, most newsrooms, 92 per cent, suggested that putting in place regulations and laws were the best way of dealing with Fake News in Ghana.
Researchers said that suggestion was problematic since literature pointed to the fact that laws and regulations were not magic bullet to deal with fake news and misinformation. More so such laws dealing with fake news could become tools to harass journalists and impinge on freedom of speech.
Mr Kwami Ahiabenu II, Executive Director of Pe[nplusbytes and lead Researcher, said the issue of fake news and misinformation had come to stay with the likelihood of it becoming a crisis in due course.
“However, there is a dearth of knowledge about its manifestation in Ghana and options available to deal with it. In the light of this situation, we are excited that we are able to contribute to the body of knowledge on this subject while offering practical recommendations to deal with this problem.”
The study, among others recommended a conscious and concerted effort by all stakeholders especially Government, regulatory bodies, including the National Media Commission, National Communications Authority, Academia, private sector and the Media houses to consolidate their efforts to address the issue of fake news.
It said the fake news menace should be tackled now and “not wait till it gets completely out of hand. This serves as a better approach of being proactive rather than being restrictive with inefficient solutions when this crisis becomes unmanageable”.
Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and enhancing media oversight for effective utilization of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.