Fake news, alternative facts, the post-truth era and the spread of misinformation on social media could spark hate and bigotry worse than the Cronulla riots, experts say.
Panellists on Monday night’s Q&A were asked if something worse than the 2005 race riots could be instigated by the rise of hate speech on social media.
The response was a resounding ‘yes’, with the experts warning today’s technology could lead to even more violent altercations.
“The capacity for that to happen exists and yes, we should be aware of it, if not running around being fearful of it and therefore work out what can we do to prevent this,” said former editor-in-chief of The Australian Mark Day.
Claire Wardle from digital publishing researcher and consultants First Draft News, echoed the statement saying misinformation could be driven by sharing incorrect material.
“I really rarely worry about hate speech. I see it as distinctive and different to ‘fake news’. It is horrific,” Ms Wardle said.
Meanwhile, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja was more optimistic, saying he had faith in the capacity of Australians to respect each other.
“I don’t see that most Australians are somehow likely to go and become a raging mob, even if they are incited on Facebook,” Mr Seselja said.
“I would say [the Cronulla riot] was a shameful moment in our history, but I don’t see that as reflective as the broader Australian character. I don’t see there is a mob waiting to riot in Australia. I just don’t accept that.”
According to Ms Wardle, social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter must respond to the flood of misinformation, saying the buck stops with them and they have a lot of questions to answer.
“They have got to act, otherwise we are all going to be living in a very uncertain and increasingly dangerous world because of this ‘fake news’ phenomenon,” she said.
“We have to start saying to the social networks, ‘you have a responsibility’. This is not about free speech.
“When there is a specific hate speech, that is different to ‘fake news’. I think as a society we have to think how we do that and work with the platforms to say you have a responsibility to take this down.”
Mr Day said for the safety of the world, these networks must eradicate incorrect information from social media platforms.
“They have got to act, otherwise we are all going to be living in a very uncertain and increasingly dangerous world because of this ‘fake news’ phenomenon,” he said.