‘The Truth Square’ to trap disinformation during General Elections

ECONOMYNEXT- ‘The Truth Square -Trap Disinformation’ a platform created to battle fake news during the upcoming General Election campaign was launched today at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute in Colombo.

The platform spearheaded by NextGenSL involves youth representing the main political parties in Sri Lanka, civil society activists, senior journalists, academics and media.

The UNP, the JVP and the SLPP were represented at the launch.

Speaking at the event Rasika Jayakody representing the United National Party (UNP) said that the main reason to establish a platform to fight against disinformation is due to the increase in harassment involving information in social media, websites and mainstream media.

This he said is more than the physical violations of election laws such as attacks, arsons and property damages during the election period.

This he said would  “allow people to take political decision based on true and accurate information.”

Further, he said these disinformation campaigns had led to character assassinations where some have quit politics as they felt they could not face the society.

Also addressing the launch Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) city councillor Milinda Rajapaksha said that one of the biggest challenges faced by youth because of this disinformation campaigns is that many of them are getting away from politics because of the low quality of the political exchanges.

He said that most of women also have lost interest in politics as they are wary of being targets of mudslinging.

Jayakody said since mainstream media does not talk about the victims of these campaigns or allow them to correct disinformation being circulated about them, he said, “ we decided to create a platform and work together for this common purpose forgetting about our political differences.”

But he said it does not mean that they are going arrive at one political ideology.

Explaining about the main four ways in which information is altered and presented, Rajapaksha said;

1) Complete lies which are intentionally propagated through websites or social media to mislead the public or a selected group.

2) Interpretation of the same news in different ways according to agendas in media organisation so that one would benefit and another would not.

3) Changing a story by changing the headline of changing a phrase or numbers.

4) Mudslinging in connection to private affairs of a politician, political party or organisations close to the election.which is also the main reason he said has created a dirty image in politics in Sri Lanka.

Accordingly, a group of media activists will observe the news media and programmes on social media and mainstream media 24/7 and prepare a weekly report based on their observations.

This weekly report will be analysed by a group of specialists consisting of senior journalists and university professors after which one copy of this report will be sent to the Election Commissioner and another to the NextGenSL group.

The Election Commissioner will then talk about the things in the report with media heads at their meeting to review the progress and will take the necessary action.

Truth Square will also release their findings to the media.

Jayakody said that they require the support of mainstream media as media should be on the same side in this battle against disinformation which is a first in Asia.

UNP urban councillor Lihini Fernando said that people should be mindful about the accuracy of posts in social media and verify them before sharing.

She said the people can use fact-checkers such as factcheck.lk, citizen.lk, Watchdogs, AFP, Fact Crescendo Sri Lanka and Hashtag Generation.(Colombo/Feb27/2020)