Social media users should be wary of the kind of information they share on their platforms, as it could land them in trouble with the law if the information is found to be fake, derogatory and defamatory.
According to Mr Jerry Sam, the Director of Programmes for Penplusbytes, a non-profit organisation that focuses on using new digital technologies to drive good governance and transparency, if the source of the fake and defamatory news could be traced and evidence proved, the person who shared that information could be sued and consequently penalised.
He, therefore, advised people to first verify the credibility of the sources of the information they shared with their friends and followers on social media.
Citing a recent ruling by the Accra High Court on a case between Mr Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, the Board Chairman of the Ghana Cocoa Board, and the Managing Editor of the Daily Post newspaper, Michael Dokosi, and Haruna Mahama, a National Democratic Congress (NDC) activist, Mr Sam explained that the court ruled that aside from the newspaper publication, the post made by Mahama, the 1st defendant, on his Facebook timeline on July 23, 2015 was defamatory.
It, therefore, awarded damages of GH¢800,000 against the defendants and also ordered Mr Mahama to retract and apologise for his statement within two weeks on his Facebook timeline and leave it there for a week.
Emergence of fake news
Fake news is false, often sensational information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.
Spreading false news through the Internet is, however, not a new thing; the increase in the number of users on the different social media platforms has led to the rise in circulation of such news items.
The term ‘Fake news’ gained prominence in the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections in the United States of America.
A post-election analysis by BuzzFeed News indicated that in the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, NBC News and others.
“During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyper-partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions and comments on Facebook,” the report stated.
Spreading fake news
Mr Sam explained that WhatsApp had become a popular platform for sharing news, whether real or fake, because it was easy to use.
He said although most of the fake news circulated on such platforms was politically motivated, the aim of the Internet sites that generated the fake stories was to drive traffic to their sites and increase revenue.
In recent times, according to him, some politicians were also taking advantage of the trend and tagging news items that did not favour them as fake, although they might be true.
“These days, it is difficult to tell fake news from real news because some trusted media houses, in an attempt to compete with these sites, do not verify news before putting them on their websites. Readers must, therefore, not be in a hurry to share news, as it could end up being a hoax,” he said.
Regualtions on social media
In an interview, Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, the Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), added that although the commission did not currently have laid down rules or guidelines for Internet or news on social media, any form of news, either in the traditional or and new media, must meet the principles of ethical journalism.
The NMC Chair said all news items must be fair, true, accurate and impartial.
He said in the lead up to the 2016 general election, the NMC organised forums with different stakeholders to solicit ideas on how to regulate content online.
Nana Gyan-Appenteng said the commission was currently working on finalising the results of those consultations for a guideline to be drafted to regulate news on the Internet.
“The absence of these guidelines does not give anyone the power to write anything without considering our journalism ethics. If it is proven that what you published online is derogatory, you will be dealt with in accordance with our rules on journalism,” he stated.