'Fake news' is a ubiquitous term that generally encompasses misinformation, disinformation and malinformation, although it is not a new phenomenon.
What is different this century is the globalisation of digital communication technologies that enables fake information online to quickly travel far and wide. Thus, unlike the past, the spread of fake news is no longer limited to the geographical boundaries of newspaper circulations or radio frequencies.
Governing during a health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic has made the ongoing problem of online misinformation a top-level policy concern.
- Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the spread of misinformation and disinformation online was a major global problem that can harm social cohesion, public health and safety, and political stability. The pandemic has highlighted how fake news about coronavirus and its treatments, even when spread innocently with no intention of causing harm, can cause real-world harm, and even death.
- A lack of consensus among policymakers, media practitioners and academics on working definitions of fake news, misinformation and disinformation contribute to the difficulties in developing clear policies and measures to tackle this global problem.
- The pandemic has emboldened many non-liberal states and fledgling democracies to crackdown on fake news through legislative means with threats of jail terms and heavy fines for those found in breach of the new laws.
- Indonesia and Singapore are among a group of early adopter states to play the role of both arbiter of what is online misinformation and the enforcer of laws against alleged misconduct. Critics argue these states are using their new laws to silence a wide spectrum of critics, with major implications for freedom of speech and expression, media freedom, political pluralism and democratic representation.