The concept of “fake news” – misinformation that pollutes the information ecosystem – has not only gained global notoriety but has also become the bane of professional journalism and an object of attention among media scholars worldwide. However, not much is known about the scale and impact of this phenomenon in Hong Kong and the Greater China region – a gap now being addressed in a research project by Professor Huang Yu and his colleagues in the School of Communication at HKBU.
Considering that fake news is plagued with conceptual irregularities as well as practical challenges, Professor Huang and his research team are exploring its definitional boundaries, its varied types and forms, its intended functions, as well as its unintended influences. The project will explicate the emic and etic definitions of fake news within the current media landscape and explore news credibility in relation to the various aspects of news production, consumption and perception. The 11-strong research team will draw on diverse areas of expertise to trace the historical trajectories of misinformation and examine the current state of fake news in the media sphere of three societies in Greater China.
The researchers hope to unpack the meaning of fake news in relation to other concepts like credibility, mis/disinformation, satire and parody. Their areas of interest include political economy as antecedents of fake news; the inverse relationship between media credibility and the prevalence of fake news; potential contributions of fake news in social mobilisation; the contrast between normative expectations vis-a-vis actual media practices and users’ participation/perception; and the cognitive, affective and behavioural consequences of fake news for the audience.
Against the backdrop of rising scepticism towards legacy news media, this project will investigate how journalists and other media practitioners perceive their roles as gatekeepers of truth at a time when the legitimacy of factual accounts of current events is increasingly questioned, and also evaluate the emerging assemblage of journalistic fact-checking mechanisms available across different media sectors to confront fake news. The research team argues that public authorities and media practitioners may not always be able to guarantee the veracity of news sources.
To tackle the menace of fake news effectively, the researchers propose three countermeasures: policy responses, artificial intelligence algorithm detection and media literacy. According to Professor Huang and his team, the tide of fake news can be stemmed considerably: (1) if government authorities implement policies that criminalise fake news; (2) by utilising algorithms to detect its origins and propagation patterns; and (3) through enlightening media audiences about fake news and increasing their understanding about the dangers of sharing fake news so as to minimise its negative influences on receivers.