“Fake news” is not quite the right label in this instance, LTA

The term “fake news” has certainly gained currency ever since Donald Trump’s liberal use of the term to challenge anyone who disagrees with his world view. Singapore has also seemingly been caught up in the “fake news” whirlwind as the government initiates ways to combat “fake news” with proposed legislation and of course, let’s not forget the Select Committee on Fake News held earlier this year.

While I am not debating the fact that some news are indeed irresponsible and false, my concern is that the label can be misused by authority figures and large corporations to simply disregard anything that they do not like. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that certain issues are subjective and open to interpretation. Will something be considered “fake” just because someone in power interprets things differently?

Let’s take a look at how the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has labelled complaints that the the enhanced security screening trials  held at Little India and Bedok stations took up a long time and caused massive queues as “fake news”. Surely whether or not something takes a long time is subjective? To a person who is not in a rush, a 15 minute wait time might not be considered long. However to a harried person rushing to work, 15 minutes could mean a sharp reprimand from their boss. If the latter person considers 15 minutes long, is that considered “fake news”? What is the LTA’s benchmark for calling the complaints “fake”?

The same theory applies to the term “massive queues”. The problem with the term “fake news” is that it can often be misused to label subjective opinions with objective standards. Invariably, it will be those in power who set objective standards for what is essentially open to opinion. Isn’t that a form of repression? In other words, telling you what to think?

Certain things will, of course, be factual. For instance, I cannot say that someone has said something publicly if they have not. But on issues such as whether or not a wait time was long or whether a queue was massive is definitely open to interpretation. I would, therefore, question the use of the term “fake news” for expressing an opinion. It would have been more appropriate for LTA to state the actual waiting times and perhaps publish some photos on the length of the queues to dispel complaints. “Fake news” is not quite the right label in this instance.

However, the term is now so liberally used that the danger of misuse is heightened. Let’s be mindful of this.