“Fake News vs. Facts”

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Being able to separate fact from fiction in any scenario can prove useful to anyone. The term “fake news” has, for some time now, spread across various social media platforms both internationally and locally as public groups have had to discern what news is factual and which isn’t. The media especially is expected to present factual information to viewers which makes their jobs so much more critical when it comes to eliminating false information. With this in mind, the Government of Belize in conjunction with the embassies of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the United States of America (USA) hosted a Media Literacy Forum.
It was held on Tuesday, September 15, 2020 under the theme “Navigating the Changing Media Landscape in Democracies: Fake news vs. Facts.” The forum, which was virtually open to the public, existed to discuss issues which governments, journalists, and the general public face and have the task of navigating as information is digitally presented. With more and more digital new platforms becoming readily available, spreading false information becomes that much easier. Furthermore, the forum sought to discuss the dangers associated with spreading fake news, how to combat them, and raise awareness of the new for widespread media literacy training. Chief Executive Officer of the Office of the Prime Minister, Audrey Wallace, related to those in attendance that the forum has come at a very critical time. We are now living in a period of the COVID-19 pandemic and our dependency on digital media has grown quite significantly. This greatly increases out exposure to information as well as disinformation, and this can be a cause for public hysteria should the wrong piece of information make its rounds on the media.
As technology continues to advance, we become overwhelmed with information which do not have to be vetted before being shared. Often times, this results in disinformation spreading like wildfire and it is up to consumers to determine what news is factual from what isn’t. Keith Gilges, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, explained exactly that, saying that traditional media institutions had the task of filtering out raw data and making it presentable while being factual. Now, with these regular media outlets being next to obsolete when it comes to propagating information, that task becomes that much more difficult. He continued to emphasize the importance of media literacy in the protection of democracy, regardless of our nationalities. “Whether we are Belizean, American, or Taiwanese, we all want to empower our democratic institutions and protect them from threats that undermine them. By promoting media literacy, we strengthen the principles of transparency, good governance and rule of law that serve as the essential cornerstones of our democratic system.”Likewise, Ambassador of the Republic of China (Taiwan), H. E. Remus Li-Kuo Chen detailed the importance of combating the propagation of false information. He likened it to containing a highly contagious virus, citing them as “interestingly, not so different.” What makes these two things alike, he says, are that both requires an understanding of how the adversaries operate, what mechanisms it produces, and from where it comes. Furthermore, they demand “community resilience through education and vigilance.” Media literacy and fact-checking can help people to adapt and become immune to future disinformation campaigns. “Belize, Taiwan and the US will continue to work closely together by sharing lessons and best practices on this critical issue.”
The media literacy forum was divided into two parts, a morning session targeting journalists and an evening session, open to the public. The public was welcome to direct questions to expert speakers from Belize, Taiwan, and the USA on topics ranging from information literacy education to the dangers of foreign disinformation. The U.S. Embassy had invited two highly respected U.S. experts as virtual speakers for the morning and evening sessions: David Shullman, a China expert and Senior Advisor at the International Republican Institute, and Dan Rutz, a public health communications expert from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Taiwan was represented by three experts: Minister Audrey Tang, Digital Minister in charge of Open Government and Social Innovation; Dr. Ketty Chen, Vice President of Taiwan Foundation for Democracy; and Chihhao Yu, Co-Director of Information Operation Research Group (IORG), to share Taiwan’s experiences of combating fake news and the information manipulation research. This forum was the first in a series of workshops focused on media literacy in partnership with the Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the US Embassy in Belize.