“If the media industry and tech giants can’t figure this shit out…”

By: Colin Meyn - Posted on: June 23, 2017 | Featured

Facebook has given a boost to media veteran Alan Soon’s plans to tackle fake news and other problems plaguing digital news in Asia before governments exploit them

Photo: Visual Hunt/Dakiny

The Splice Newsroom, a Singapore-based brainchild of Alan Soon, was among the first beneficiaries of the Facebook Journalism Project for its ambitious plans to address some of the biggest problems facing digital newsrooms in the region.

“There’s no service in Asia that captures the transformation of newsrooms in the region – there’s no ‘Nieman Lab’ for Asia. There are no equivalents to Journalism.co.uk, Digiday or Poynter here,” Soon said in an article posted to Medium following the announcement of Facebook’s funding last week.

“There’s no perspective on innovation in Asia’s newsrooms, no showcase for emerging talent or resources for funding opportunities,” added the veteran journalist, who has worked for outlets including Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg.

In a separate article on Mumbrella Asia, Soon wrote of the danger that a lack of private sector action on issues like fake news could be used by governments anxious for reasons to restrict the space for free press and free speech.

“This is an important point that’s often missing in conferences about fake news these days: If the media industry and tech giants can’t figure this shit out, it will give governments an excuse to tighten legislation or add new ones,” Soon wrote.

The Singaporean government, he noted, has already said that it plans to draft new laws to combat misinformation online. Southeast Asia has no shortage of governments that seem to have little appreciation for free press.

“The press freedom situation is dire across Asia, with different factors motivating different types and degrees of crackdowns,” Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said last year. “There are few places, if any, in the region where it’s safe to be a journalist these days.”

The issue is particularly pressing given the rapidly escalating penetration of smartphones and the internet in the region, where plugged in citizens of poor countries like Cambodia and Myanmar are just as likely to go online for news as those in wealthier markets such as Singapore and Malaysia.

“As Internet penetration climbs in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, and American and other companies reach out to these new markets, we must continue to ensure that they act responsibility and protect the rights of all users,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in an article last year.

“This means both pushing back against governments when they seek to repress their populations as well as creating and implementing policies in the interest of privacy and free expression.”

Though Facebook has come under massive criticism for helping spread fake news, it says its support of partners like Splice Newsroom will help media organizations combat the confusion and chart a clear path forward.

Soon wrote that in the coming months Splice will spread its work through white papers, articles, podcasts, events and “building a website and filling it with great content.”

“We will measure success on our ability to build and serve a niche community of media professionals  –  how we’re keeping the community informed, how we’re driving the transformation of newsrooms and how we’re part of the discussion on the future jobs needed in the service of journalism,” he said.

“We’ll focus on subscribers  –  not anonymous, mass numbers, but people we know and can add value to.”