[Related Media’s Public columns: “Villafuerte’s bill on fake news oppressive,” Feb. 17, 2018; “House fake news bill punishes errors in reporting and editing,” March 24, 2018; “Bong Go’s idea of fake news,” Feb. 24, 2018]

A SURVEY conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) and Oxford University showed that media users see no clear distinction between authentic news and fake news.

“It’s one of degree rather than clear distinction,” said a summary of findings of the survey that used data from online media users in focus group discussions in the first half of 2017.

When asked to provide examples of fake news, respondents identified 1) poor journalism, 2) propaganda from politicians and”hyper-partisan” content, and 3) advertisements that used superlatives in selling their product or service. More than they identified as fake news the stories with fabricated content.

Expanded meaning

Thus “fake news” as part of the language may have already expanded its meaning to include lapses and mistakes of journalists, politicians’ spiel and advertisers’ hype.

But slow down a bit. Those tapped in the survey were mostly residents in the United Kingdom, not Filipinos and it covered only online media users, no print and broadcast consumers. Would the result be different if the survey were conducted here and widened to include mainstream media?

Targeted in fakery

It would be useful and interesting to look at fake news from the perspective of media users. They are the audience targeted by makers of fake news. They are the people who decide how to act on it when they spot it and suffer (or benefit) from the misinformation.

What have we known so far in the local scene? Few people, mostly politicians, use the phrase “fake news.” And as they do abroad, some apply it to errors in reporting or editing and criticisms made by specific persons that turned out be false. We have yet to see the term used to identify false advertising in goods and services.

Using the buzzword

But the nation could ape, as it has done, trends in pop culture, including buzzwords like “fake news.” Already, the term is used by public officials and others to describe. Trump style, news they don’t like.

Which could land in the law of the land. Villafuerte’s House Bill #6022, which seeks to penalize fake news, defines false information to include such errors as misquoting the source and lapses in editing of audio or video, regardless of intent.

Confusion on meaning

The problem of fake news has alarmed governments, world organizations and business sectors: U.K. parliament ordered an investigation of its adverse effects. World Economic Forum ranked it as one of the 2013 top risks to business, False information can be used to manipulate stock, damage brands of goods and services and reputation of managers, and otherwise ruin business operations, like instigating boycott or lockdown.

What has language to do with the feared mess? Confusion over its meaning and usage will make coping with fake news a lot tougher.

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