Doggone, fake news good for business

Editorial | Nov 13, 2017
A Yuen Long eatery was snared in a potential scandal - through no fault of its own - after social media posts questioned whether its famous mutton hot pots served dog meat instead.

If true, it would have been unlawful and condemnable. The restaurateur was chastised by angry netizens and forced to close shop for a few days. Meanwhile, police and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officials swooped to look for evidence of irregularities.

After FEHD tested the meat, the mutton was found to be genuine.

It was another ridiculous example of how hearsay was readily taken as a serious source of information. No matter how pathetic the case has been, it's more than a laughable situation, for merely calling it laughable would belittle the issue.

It's plain cyber bullying, right?

The occurrence would have been unlikely in the past, when mainstream media professing journalistic ethics were people's primary source of information. The problem we face today is the abundance of unverified information on social media and, more often than not, it's difficult to differentiate fact from fiction.

Hence the dilemma - to believe or not to believe? - that is the question.

The development, however, isn't totally bereft of a silver lining. After getting hoodwinked a couple of times on social media, people would usually wisen up. The pendulum seems to be swinging back, after reaching the absurd in the United States.

US President Donald Trump is fond of singling out certain media organizations for whipping, accusing them - including venerable The New York Times and Washington Post - of producing fake news. The irony is that more Americans, especially millennials, are currently more willing than ever to pay for online news reported by traditional news organizations.

Politico, an American political journalism company, recently reported young people are subscribing to traditional news publications in record numbers - a year after Trump was elected.

The New Yorker magazine, for example, has seen its number of new millennial subscribers more than double, with those aged 18 to 34 and 25 to 34 having soared 106 and 129 percent.

Another magazine, The Atlantic, reportedly saw similar growth, with new subscribers aged 18 to 24 surging 130 percent.

And while The Times has a policy of not revealing figures for subscriptions, its recent results showed a growth in revenues attributable to increased subscriptions and advertising.

But alas, the phenomenon remains confined to the United States, according to a global survey conducted by Reuters. Of the 36 nations surveyed, nobody else has seen a major hike in the number of people paying for online news.

America is the only country studied that saw growth from an overall of 9 percent in 2016, to 16 percent in 2017.

Surprised? Yes, I am.

The problem is that we may first need to have a "Donald Trump" type person in Hong Kong, in order for the pendulum to swing back from the extremity to favor mainstream media.

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December 2018