The Asian American Journalists Association Asia Chapter (AAJA-Asia)’s N3COnU Mentorship Program is an opportunity for students to develop reporting skills under the mentorship of industry professionals. In 2023, 22 students from 10 different Asian countries, from Pakistan and Nepal to South Korea or Singapore, were selected out of 125 applications to join the program. 14 professional journalists mentored them to write stories covering the journalism industry and underrepresented communities in the Asia Pacific region. A jury of seven journalists then selected the five top stories written by the students that we are proud to publish here. (Scroll down to read all stories)
By Seung-ku Lee
On a recent afternoon, Muaz Razaq, a Pakistani student studying at Kyungpook National University in Daegu, South Korea, walks down an alley in the city’s Daehyun-dong neighborhood. As he moves through the twists and turns of the street, he is greeted by anti-Islamic signs and banners.
“Just like Europe, if (this) area becomes Muslim-concentrated, with slums and minimal public order, who will take responsibility?” reads one banner. Further down the alley, he walks by a refrigerator filled with severed pig heads.
The residents of the small neighborhood in northeastern Daegu have been using the carcasses and banners as a means of protest against a mosque being constructed in the area.
In 2020, Muslim students at KNU raised money amongst themselves to reconstruct an old house nearby campus and transform it into a place of worship. Residents in the neighborhood filed a complaint to the local district government, and construction was halted in 2021. Months later, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that the district’s decision to stop the construction was unconstitutional.
“It was worse before,” Razaq recounted, sharing pictures of banners calling Muslims terrorists and urging for their expulsion. “We are not imposing our culture on them, we just want a place to pray,” he added.
A growing community
Islam has been in Korea for decades. The religion first entered the country in the 1950s during the Korean War, and its first local converts professed their faith around the same time.
The Islamic community in Korea saw its biggest growth in the 1980s, when five mosques sprung up throughout the peninsula, and the local Muslim community grew to about 30,000. Today, the Korean Muslim Foundation estimates that South Korea is home to 25 mosques and approximately 200,000 Muslims.
The Muslim community in Korea has existed for the past half century without any major conflicts, but Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon. Imam Abdul Rahman Kim Ju-ae of the Grand Mosque, located in central Seoul, asserted that Islamophobia has been brewing locally since the early 2000s, when anti-Islam sentiment rose worldwide.
The imam cited events such as the murder of a Korean citizen by Iraqi Islamic militants in 2004, and the detainment of church missionaries in 2007 by the Taliban in Afghanistan as having contributed to creating a negative image of the religion.
“We have started becoming targeted by certain religious groups, but we don’t want to fight with them. We just want to practice our faith peacefully. Islam’s most important aspect is tolerance and coexistence,” the imam said.
‘If Daehyun-dong falls, Daegu falls’
The idea that certain groups are working to spread Islamophobia throughout the general population is common within the local Muslim community.
“There were third parties made up of Christian groups present at the mediation meetings, and they plant fear in the minds of our neighbors,” said Razaq when describing the protests.
He added that he believes the church leaders leading the protests worked to obstruct opportunities for mediation and used hateful methods of protest.
The conflict gained nationwide attention after local media outlets reported on the unconventional protest methods employed by the protestors.
The neighbors hosted a pork barbeque party in front of the mosque’s construction site, and left a pig’s head alongside a bottle of alcohol next to the property. The consumption of pork and alcoholic drinks are strictly forbidden in Islamic tradition.
Photo caption: A local Presbyterian pastor shouts at Muslim students during a rally against the mosque construction in Daehyun-dong, Daegu, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Muaz Razaq)
Meanwhile, the neighbors claim that their protests are not Islamophobic. The vice president of the Daehyun-dong Neighbors’ Association Against the Construction of the Mosque, Kim Jeong-ae, argued that the neighbors were protesting because they were worried about noise pollution and discomfort related to people gathering. “We would have protested even if it were a church, or a Buddhist temple,” she said. “It’s not Islamophobia.”
“Why must the neighbors bear the burden when it was [the university] that brought the Muslim students?” she asked. “The street is privately owned, and the neighbors have a right to do what they want in front of their houses.”
But Razaq begs to differ. “Why would they say, ‘If Daehyun-dong falls, Daegu will fall?’ Why does building a mosque mean Daehyun-dong will fall?”
Disappointed, but hopeful
Other Muslims view the Daegu incident with disappointment, feeling as if there is no place for them in a largely homogeneous country.
“They don’t try to understand and learn what Islam really is. They think Islam is all about the extremism they see in the media,” said 24-year old Bangladeshi student Andrua Haque, who has lived in Korea for over 15 years.
In his time in Korea, Haque has seen his fair share of discrimination, but said that in the past it was mostly due to ignorance about Islam. But more recently, the discrimination has become more intense and direct. Two years ago, Haque was confronted by a middle-aged man on a bus who asked if he “was Taliban.”
When Haque shook his head, the man demanded to know if Haque was Muslim. When Haque said yes, the man broke into a chant. “We can’t have Taliban! We can’t have Muslims! You need to leave!”
Despite the incident, Haque said he remains hopeful. “On the bus that day, there were teenagers who stood up for me. They basically forced the man off the bus,” Haque recalled. The teenagers later approached him to apologize for the man’s action. “There is a lot of positivity. I see hope,” Haque said.
The hopeful sentiment can also be found in Daegu. “I do not generalize all Korean people as being good or bad,” Razaq said. He recalled that there were many individuals and organizations who have reached out to offer support. “These [neighbors] have a certain mindset, and that mindset is the problem,” he added. “There is hope.”
By Charlotte Kwan
Hong Kong may be positioning itself as ‘Asia’s world city’, home to a multi-racial community. And yet it remains a homogenous society with the ethnic Chinese accounting for more than 90 percent of its population. Ethnic minorities, most of whom are of Southeast Asian and South Asian descent, only account for about 8.4 percent of the population.
But what is more challenging is the persistence of racial discrimination, depriving opportunities to the autonomous region’s ethnic minorities. This has been more pronounced at the height of the pandemic when social distancing measures have forced most residents to order food online. The delivery men, most of whom are of South Asian descent, have reported that the clients verbally abuse them. Many of the clients, who order via food delivery applications, have also asked for “no South Asian riders” as they were perceived as ‘virus carriers’.
In October 2022, local broadcasting company TVB has drawn flak for producing a TV show that featured an ethnic Chinese actress who ‘browned face’ to portray a Filipina helper. This was considered offensive, and TVB was criticized for how it depicted ethnic minorities. More importantly, the controversy has steered discussion on racial inequality and inclusivity.
Ethnic minorities like Gregory Laurence Boragay, a 19-year-old student at HKU Space Community College, is frustrated at the prevailing stereotypes of ethnic minorities. He said most of the older generation of ethnic Chinese that he met “think that we are dirty and loud”.
Boragay, a Hong Kong-born Filipino, said it’s difficult for him to even get a part-time job as most employers think that the locals, alluding to the ethnic Chinese, are more approachable and easier to communicate with. “Some companies doubt if we can work in the same practice as the locals do,” he said.
Qureshi Hira Asif, a 20-year-old student at the University of Hong Kong, could relate to Boragay’s sentiment.
“The information (they received) from the news media affected the way they see us,” she said. Asif, as a second-generation Pakistani-Hongkonger, said the media should be held accountable for promoting ethnic minority stereotypes.
“Usually when there are some negative things related to ethnic minorities, the news article will emphasize like an Indian guy killed someone blah blah blah,” she said.
Jan Yumul, a thirty-something journalist, said inadequate media engagement of ethnic minorities in the local news media can explain such reporting focus.
Yumul was born in the Philippines but grew up in Hong Kong. She recalled the time an editor asked her to refer to an interviewee, who is an ethnic minority, as a ‘foreigner’. For Yumul, this is unacceptable as the interviewee may not be Chinese but that does not mean he or she is a foreigner.
She said the words that the media use can influence their audience’s perceptions. Yumul observed that the English-language news media in Hong Kong seems to be more sensitive than the Chinese ones as the English news media may have more ethnic minority journalists in their staff.
Photo caption: Jan Yumul was working for her broadcast as a journalist. Photo: Jan Yumul
Apart from the media, schools can also help in educating people on racial sensitivity. The problem is the Hong Kong education system itself is not inclusive.
Asif said the language barrier is a problem among ethnic minorities. “I was rejected by many kindergarten schools as I couldn’t speak Cantonese. They said they could not arrange resources or teaching staff for me in everyday lessons.”
She said that many ethnic minorities can’t get into the prestigious band 1 category secondary schools because they’re not fluent in Cantonese. Asif was disappointed that the public education system in Hong Kong does not take non-Chinese students, who have limited exposure to the Cantonese language, into consideration. Asif herself studied in a lower band secondary school but managed to get a place in a top-tier university like HKU by taking supplementary classes in Cantonese.
Proficiency in Cantonese, however, won’t automatically open doors for ethnic minorities. Such is the case of Khan Mohammad Naheem, 24, who’s a son of a Pakistani father and a Filipino mother. He has been studying in local schools since kindergarten and is a fluent Cantonese speaker, but Naheem said he still had a difficult time in school or looking for a job.
“There was one time my professor said he just could not give me a higher grade because I’m an ethnic minority, even though my performance is believed to be good by the other mentors in charge,” Naheem said. He said such discrimination has hindered his pursuit of a university degree, although after many years of trying, he finally got the chance to study at the City University of Hong Kong where he is an English major.
The stereotypical views on ethnic minorities have also prevented them from securing higher-paying jobs.
Yumul said there is wage discrimination against ethnic minorities. She observed some companies pay Western expats more than ethnic minority employees even though they’re doing the same job.
Moreover, many of the younger generations of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are immigrants and can only get lower-income jobs due to language constraints. These jobs barely offer better career opportunities, which is why ethnic minorities can hardly climb the social ladder.
During the pandemic, more than 30 percent of the roughly 80,000 South Asians in Hong Kong are in elementary low-wage occupations, according to the Catholic Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers-Kowloon.
Despite these challenges, ethnic minorities in Hong Kong remain hopeful and believe they should be more proactive in fighting racism.
Boragay of HKU SPACE said reaching out to people around him is a good start.
“When I find my friends or someone I encounter has an incorrect idea related to my racial background or history, I can just fix it up by telling them what is right and what is wrong,” he said.
Boragay said that if every member of the ethnic minority community tries to do that, “little by little we can alter the stereotypical belief in our society. It is very important for us to make the first step”.
Naheem cited the influence of online social platforms, and how sharing more about the ethnic minority’s lifestyle and customs can help the locals to understand them better.
“It is normal that people outside our cultural group do not have the same belief and values as we do. But if we speak up for ourselves, if we promote our culture by ourselves, others will have a clearer picture of how we actually live,” he said.
Naheem said, “It is about our self-empowerment.”
Yumul said the government needs to consider the plight of ethnic minorities in policymaking as this can promote inclusivity.
“There are actually many talents among the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has the potential to break the cultural barriers,” she said.
Yumul hopes that more local news media can engage non-Chinese journalists so that they can produce reports that offer diverse perspectives and are culturally sensitive.
“The term ‘ethnic minorities’ itself contains the idea of minorities. The media and the government will play the key roles in re-defining this term,” Yumul said.
By Leesha K Nair
Surrounded by water bodies in the Bay of Bengal whilst receiving one of the highest levels of annual rainfall in India, Andaman and Nicobar Islands are least likely to be counted among the water-deprived regions in India. Yet, many islanders in the capital city, Port Blair, have been holding protests since mid-May because water supply in their areas has been suspended for more than 10 days.
The islands are one of the eight union territories (UTs) of the country. Unlike the Indian states, UTs do not have their own government and are instead termed as ‘federal territories’ that are either wholly or partly governed by the union government. Each UT is administered by a Lieutenant Governor or an Administrator appointed by the President of India. However, being directly under the control of the Central Government does not prevent these territories from struggling with issues similar to the states of the country. In spite of this, mainstream coverage of matters related to the majority of the union territories is minimal, whereas constant updates are delivered for Indian states on the same topics.
When access to clean water goes from being a right to a struggle
“It has been 13 days since we have received water in our area. Whatever water we had stored in our storage drums is depleting. We were able to manage the crisis due to the municipality wells, but water in those wells is not fit for consumption. If the administration supplies water through pipelines, we can utilise it for drinking and cooking, and use the water from the wells for the rest of our needs,” says Dipesh Mondal, a lower-grade clerk.
Amidst the water scarcity, people of many localities such as Dairy Farm, Garacharama, and Pahargaon are relying on water stored in borewells, municipality wells, and indigenous tanks known as ‘diggis’. Along with this, they are purchasing drinking water from private sources, which is burning a hole in their pockets due to its high cost. Many residents have reportedly reached out to their respective ward councillors about the matter, but their pleas have not received any attention.
According to the directives issued on May 17 by the District Magistrate, Veditha Reddy, the Andaman Public Works Department (APWD) and Port Blair Municipal Council (PBMC) were ordered to assess all water sources in the South Andaman district, after which they had to estimate the amount of water that can be provided for public consumption within the limits of the district. Following this, they had to supply clean and safe water to residents using all water sources including bore wells, ring wells, ponds and others available in the district whilst ensuring equal distribution. Despite the instructions, APWD didn’t take any effective measures against the issue until the public blocked the roads owing to the protests, after which water was supplied through water tanks.
The local water crisis reflects a global problem
As reported by the 2023 UN Water Development report, 2 billion people (26% of the global population) do not have safe drinking water. It was also revealed that around three billion people face water shortages for at least a month per year. In addition to this, the global urban population facing water scarcity is projected to double from 930 million in 2016 to 1.7 – 2.4 billion people in 2050.
Country-wise, India is expected to face a severe water crisis by 2050. A NITI Aayog report published in 2019 highlighted that more than 600 million people are severely affected by the water crisis in the country. Furthermore, three-quarters of India’s rural households do not have piped, potable water and depend on sources that pose serious health risks. In 2018, India was ranked highest among the countries with the lowest access to clean water with 163 million Indians not having access to safe drinking water, according to The Water Gap: WaterAid’s State of the World’s Water report. The 2022 UN World Water Development Report identified India as the largest groundwater user globally with an estimated withdrawal of 251 km³ per year through an estimated 20 million wells and tube wells. This accounted for almost 26% of the groundwater extracted globally, out of which about 89% of this groundwater was used in India for irrigation, which was the main contributor to the overexploitation of underground water.
“Do we now have to beg for our basic right to water? They say that they will send water tanks but then they rarely do so. And even if they do so, water tanks are not a viable solution. Many of us live away from the main road, and our areas have extremely narrow lanes. How do we carry our big drums to the main road, fill it with water and then go back through those lanes? Aren’t we risking our health? Also, the water won’t be distributed equally to all of us because there will be a lot of commotion. It will be better if they supply water through the pipelines provided to us. Other places in the islands get water in the same way, why can’t they do the same for us?” asks Saraswathi Devi, a teacher.
Photo caption: PBMC complies with the demand of the protestors by sending water tankers to the Dairy farm area. (Photo credit: Hawk Eye)
Cities have it better
Although the administration cites less rainfall and dependence on a single dam, namely the Dhanikhari dam, as the prime reasons for the scarcity of water in the isles, islanders regard poor management and disparity in the supply of water as the main cause of the water crisis. While water hasn’t been regularly provided to many rural and semi-urban areas, the same is not true for localities in the city centre.
“There hasn’t been much rainfall this year as compared to the previous years, but we have received water regularly. Although they now supply it in 3 days, as opposed to 2 days with reduced speed, I manage because we get water regularly,” says Sakeena Begum, homemaker.
The areas where the authorities and the elite populations reside are also one of the few areas with constant water supply. People living in close proximity to such localities haven’t raised any issues about the water crisis, but residents of semi-urban and remote regions are severely affected. Moreover, the senior officials in the administration are also being blamed for the poor maintenance of pipelines and their failure to comply with their promises.
“The officials preach about conserving water, yet do not practice it. Many pipelines that transfer water are not maintained well and have leakage issues. Even after receiving complaints about the damaged pipes they do not take any action. The PM had mentioned raising the height of the Dhanikhari dam in December 2018 to allow for more storage of water for the islands. No information about that project is revealed to the public even after 4 years,” says Shrinath Vashishtha, editor of local news daily Hawk Eye.
Missing from the media
Despite the scarcity of water in the region, the issue has not been showcased by any national media house. The geographical location of the islands is the main cause of the neglect and puts the archipelago at a great disadvantage.
“The islands are closer to Indonesia and completely isolated from mainland India. The issues of this place are hardly of any interest to the mainstream media. We have sent countless pieces of information to many news outlets describing the gravity of the situation, but we haven’t received any response. Social media is the only platform that has allowed us to share the problems in the islands but not many people are interested,” adds Vashishtha.
Currently, plans of constructing an artificial reservoir to tackle the issue of water scarcity in the Islands are being discussed, yet the city still has a long way to go to achieve success in water conservation and distribution.
By Tay Hui Zhi, Elena
Not many are aware of the existence and struggles the non-binary community face in Singapore. TAY HUI ZHI, ELENA talks to someone who identifies as non-binary to find out more.
Photo caption: Athena Kong, a Singaporean who identifies as a non-binary person, poses for a photo in their room. (Photo by Tay Hui Zhi, Elena)
The first time Athena Kong, 19, realized they were not comfortable being referred to by the gender assigned at birth was when they started feeling unlike themselves wearing a skirt in secondary school.
In most Singapore schools, uniforms are compulsory, with female students donning skirts and male students wearing shorts or pants.
“Being in a skirt, you’re naturally categorized with other people who are assigned female at birth. For some reason, it just didn’t feel right with me,” said Kong, currently a student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore.
When they were 14-16 years of age, Kong particularly hated the way their body looked, their voice sounded, and how people perceived them.
“I hated the way my body looked because I was bullied a lot in primary school [being called] ugly, fat, and stupid,” said Kong, who now identifies as a non-binary person and goes by the pronouns they/them.
Scientists agree that gender exists on a spectrum. Those who do not identify with the most common gender markers, Female and Male, use other terms like non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, and more.
Many such people whose gender identity is “opposite” or “across from” the sex they were assigned at birth are sometimes referred to with the umbrella term transgender, according to Gender Spectrum, an organization that works on binary gender issues.
Singapore has no official estimates of transgender people among its 5.6 million population.
In a report by Statista in 2022, 12% of respondents were said to be part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore. They did not give the breakdown of each category.
Transitioning to non-binary
In Singapore, gender confirmation surgery has been legalized since 1973 for the transgender community, making it one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to transgender attitudes.
Kong said they also thought of transitioning to a man at one point, recognizing themselves as a guy and even giving themselves more masculine names, like Klenn, Aden, and Adrian.
However, none of the names stuck with Kong. Said they, “I didn’t want to have to feel the hurt of them slipping up and everything. And since I don’t experience that much dysphoria [distressing feeling] from my name, I chose to stick with it.”
These thoughts were carried on from school days and played a part in Kong’s initial decision to perhaps transition into a male, as they started wearing chest binders and cut hair short.
“I never realized how liberating it was to see myself with short hair. I just felt more that way. I didn’t like the way I looked with long hair,” Kong said.
Kong’s aversion to being seen as a girl stemmed from the gender stereotypes associated with femininity, and their body dysmorphia – a condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws hardly noticeable to others in their appearance – further added to it.
These changes reaffirmed their realization that they didn’t fit in with the “typical” feminine side of the gender spectrum.
However, soon after secondary school, they realized they didn’t necessarily want to transition to male either – after experiencing more liberty to explore and experiment their gender identity, ultimately feeling most comfortable as a “non-binary person.”
On pronouns and school
Now studying at the polytechnic, Kong said they had told their friends about their pronouns, “but they continue to use she/her, and they have no guilt about it. They use it as though it’s their right.”
It is a common negative experience many in the transgender community go through, especially in schools and colleges.
In a survey published by TransgenderSG in 2021, 22% of transgender people reported being verbally abused, while a similar number shared experiences of people spreading rumors about their gender identity.
Half of the respondents said other students intentionally misgendered them.
“I think it’s good to get teachers to teach students how to be more understanding towards people who are just simply different from them and how important it can go a long way for the community as well’,” added Kong.
A minister said in 2020 that the government would work with educational institutes to promote the teaching of gender education. However, policy specifics are not known.
Photo caption: Pinkdot, an annual event to show support to the LGBT community, was held at Hong Lim Park on June 18, 2022. (Photo by Tay Hui Zhi, Elena)
Progressive, but also conservative
June Chua, 50, the founder of T Project, Singapore’s only social service for the transgender community, said that she gets support from the government, which has helped the shelter survive from 2014 till now.
“They’re very supportive of resources for the LGBT community, and they support the homeless shelter; they support my counseling programs,” Chua said.
The government also has laws in place to protect the transgender community, including the religious harmony act that has been amended to protect LGBT community.
Last year, Singapore’s parliament repealed the controversial Section 377A law inherited from British rule, which banned sex between two men.
However, the government then immediately amended the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage between a man and a woman, making Singapore one of the most progressive on some issues while very conservative on others.
Similarly, the National Registration Identity Card (NRIC), the legal identity document for Singaporean citizens and permanent residents, has binary gender marker, as “M” or “F.”
In the 2021 TransgenderSG survey, 85.7% of respondents said having their gender legally recognized was important, while 82.5% felt that having the correct gender marker on their NRIC made them feel safe.
“Transgender people are just like everyone else. Just because we identify differently, just because we don’t fall into the same gender bracket that society is so comfortable with, doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve respect,” said Kong.
“Change in society is difficult, but change is important.”
By Shauna Tan
As social media companies downsize their trust and safety teams, platforms are more vulnerable to misinformation, possibly preventing journalists from countering with well-researched news.
Social media has become a vital tool for journalists, not just to share their insights, but also to source news stories and keep abreast of the latest trends and conversations.
“If a journalist wants to make an impact with their stories, it is essential that they be conscious of how social media works,” says Darryl Laiu, a content producer at a Singaporean news outlet.
In an online climate growing hostile to journalism, trust and safety teams in social media companies are pivotal. They leverage data, policy and machine learning tools to moderate content.
In addition, they communicate platform expectations to users, while ensuring the company complies with local laws and its terms of service.
Yet the recent Big Tech layoffs have hit trust and safety teams hard. Advertisements for such positions have also declined, according to a report by NBC News. The hollowing out of this sector raises concerns for journalists and news outlets, including the unfettered proliferation of illegitimate, but seemingly plausible, artificial intelligence (AI)-generated ‘news’ stories, and even limits on the online visibility of authoritative journalism. As these changes come into effect, it is imperative that media outlets recognise the new challenges and opportunities this presents.
The work of trust and safety teams is increasingly urgent. Government scrutiny of social media has intensified; Cambodia, India, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have passed or drafted laws requiring social media companies to remove and report to the authorities content that is controversial or deemed “fake news” by the government. Such laws have been misused over the years to censor journalists.
“Investments in trust and safety and related areas like ethical approaches to the management of information don’t make money,” said Simon Chesterman, Vice Provost (Educational Innovation) at the National University of Singapore, and principal investigator at its Centre for Trusted Internet and Community, in an interview with N3 Mag.
Chesterman notes that reducing in-house trust and safety personnel could mean a greater reliance on reactive, rather than proactive, content control. That is, social media companies may be less equipped to regularly revise their policies to pre-empt harmful behavior, or make their monitoring efforts more visible to encourage good user conduct.
A downsized moderation team could also lead to less thorough, slower moderation, meaning misleading information could be left up for longer.
“The fact that it’s later on taken down doesn’t mean a lot of the harm hasn’t already taken place,” the professor said.
Trust and Safety teams’ mandate to balance between public and private interests could be further threatened by factors like company leadership. Journalists may be deplatformed, making them unable to spread news that is in the public interest. Indeed, U.S. broadcasters National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) left Twitter in April 2023, after the platform labeled them “government-funded media” along with Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua News.
“I personally think that Twitter’s move hurts [itself] more than NPR or PBS, because of the reputation these [outlets] have,” Laiu noted in an email interview with N3 Mag. He added that larger news organizations like NPR and PBS may simply use other channels to amplify their news stories.
With social media companies reducing their investments in trust and safety efforts, the onus of gatekeeping social media newsfeeds from bad actors and determining what counts as fake news could shift to journalists and news institutions.
Outside Asia, outlets like The New Yorker have carved a niche for their fact-checking of news stories and noteworthy claims. The International Fact-Checking Network, established in 2015, continues to advocate for factual information through training and advocacy. As credible news gains currency, consumers could return to relying on established news organizations and journalists.
Chesterman speculates that outlets may subsequently change their approach to meet the new demand for trustworthy, but still prompt, news.
However, Laiu notes that it has always been the journalist’s responsibility to judge and verify the facts of any story. “I think [these trends in trust and safety] will just elevate the importance of these judgments and verifications,” he wrote.
While Trust and Safety staff numbers appear to be dwindling, Chesterman suggests that social media firms could leverage automated systems, AI and machine learning to encourage users to consider their news consumption and sharing habits.
In 2020, WhatsApp expanded on their forwarding limits; users could forward a message to up to five chats, and messages deemed to have been forwarded many times can only be forwarded to one chat at a time. These limits have reportedly cut the spread of “highly forwarded” viral messages by 70 percent. Automated features like these could nudge users to critically consider the legitimacy of the content they consume, before sharing it with others.
Apart from nudging users to consume responsibly, Chesterman envisions more companies using machine learning models to determine the veracity of news sources.
Yet the same technology that companies used to verify news stories may be used to create equally convincing fake news. These illegitimate pieces could evade fake news identification systems and outperform less sensationalized journalism from legitimate sources. Already, The Guardian has reported instances where it was contacted regarding non-existent, but plausible-looking, articles generated by ChatGPT. And several outlets, including the Toronto Star and the New York Times, have raised concerns about the potential for AI to generate convincing disinformation.
Additionally, biases associated with large language models, including gender and racial prejudices, could be perpetuated in training news verification systems, potentially causing important stories about marginalized groups to be incorrectly flagged and removed. Having fewer experienced human moderators to check machine output could exacerbate moderation inaccuracies.
Until social media platforms implement efficient, cost-effective content moderation systems, misleading news could spread further and more quickly, making it harder for counter narratives from journalists to reach their target audiences.
In light of declining investments in trust and safety on some social media platforms, journalists and news organizations should prepare for slower, less accurate moderation of news stories as social media firms rely more on machine and reactive human moderation. Laiu says it remains to be seen how these trends in social media will evolve and affect news organizations outside the U.S. For now, it pays to be vigilant and continue committing to accurate reporting over speed.