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Facebook still struggling against tide of fake news

Fake news continues to haunt social media sites. Facebook, for one, still struggles despite its well publicised steps to deal with it. 


There has always been fake/distorted/ biased news — perhaps not on the scale of fake US election news — and it will continue as long as people want to believe it because they agree with it or it feeds their biases. Nevertheless, the efforts of social media, particularly Facebook, to get it under control have been somewhat successful, with some painful missteps.

Facebook’s recent high-profile fake news blunder involved the site’s “Safety Check” page which promoted a story that incorrectly identified the suspect of the recent Las Vegas mass shooting. The story got through Facebook’s fact-checking system, put in place in March this year.

An earlier story highlights the reverse psychology of some users: the fact-checking system labelled an article (on Irish slaves) as possible “fake news”, warning users against sharing it — the reverse happened when conservative groups decided that Facebook was trying to silence the story so spread the word – and traffic to the story skyrocketed.

When two or more fact-checkers debunk an article, it is supposed to get a “disputed” tag that warns users before they share the piece and is attached to the article in news feeds.

The spreading of this piece after it was debunked and branded “disputed” is one of many examples of the pitfalls of Facebook’s partnering with third-party fact-checkers and publicly flagging fake news. Articles formally debunked by Facebook’s fact-checking partners – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News and PolitiFact – frequently remain on the site without the “disputed” tag warning users about the content. And when fake news stories do get branded as potentially false, the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done. Even in those cases, it’s unclear to what extent the flag actually limits the spread of propaganda.

Facebook’s efforts to curb fake news followed a widespread backlash about the site’s role in proliferating misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. The rocky rollout of Facebook fact-checking is as much a product of the enormity of the problem of Internet propaganda as it is a reflection of what critics say is a failure by the company to take this challenge seriously.

AP Fact check AP Fact check

Last year, Facebook faced growing criticisms that it allowed fake election news to outperform real news, and creating filter bubbles that facilitated the increasing polarisation of voters. In response, Facebook announced that it would work to stop misinformation in part by letting users report fake news articles, which independent fact-checking groups could then review.

When two or more fact-checkers debunk an article, it is supposed to get a “disputed” tag that warns users before they share the piece and is attached to the article in news feeds. While some of the fact-checking groups said the collaboration has been a productive step in the right direction, a review of content suggests that the labour going into the checks may have little consequence.

ABC News, for example, has a total of 12 stories on its site that its reporters have debunked, but with more than half of those stories, versions can still be shared on Facebook without the disputed tag, even though they were proven false.

There are a number of sites that promote fake news as a “joke” to see how gullible readers are and how far the stories spread. The fact-checking system catches these as well. One well-known fake news writer Paul Horner, said some of his websites have been blocked on Facebook, but that other articles have gone unchecked, including one famously saying Trump issued an order allowing bald eagles to be hunted and another about the president cancelling Saturday Night Live.

The next steps

In its latest effort to combat misinformation and fake news, Facebook is testing a feature that gives users additional information around articles shared in the News Feed. The feature, indicated by a letter “i” icon near the headline of an article, will provide users with contextual information like the publisher’s Facebook and Wikipedia pages, related articles on the topic, and information on how other users are sharing the article.

Wikipedia will likely become an increasingly important element of a publisher’s image. As Facebook more widely rolls out the new tool and more users begin to lean on Wikipedia to help them judge an article’s credibility, publishers will likely put more emphasis on ensuring their Wikipedia page accurately and favourably reflects them.

It was designed to assist users in identifying phoney publisher accounts. If a publisher doesn’t have a Facebook or Wikipedia page available, users will know to take the information with a grain of salt, and remain cautious of the publisher’s validity. Although this does not necessarily curb the amount of fake news being spread on the platform, users may be more likely to identify false information on Facebook in the first place.


The announcement of this feature is timely, as user scepticism of the platform’s news, such as the Las Vegas massacre, may currently be particularly piqued.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia will likely become an increasingly important element of a publisher’s image. As Facebook more widely rolls out the new tool and more users begin to lean on Wikipedia to help them judge an article’s credibility, publishers will likely put more emphasis on ensuring their Wikipedia page accurately and favourably reflects them.

This may contribute to users becoming cautious of Wikipedia pages of publishers, as certain publishers may have an incentive to curate their Wikipedia profile. However, the website has over 130,000 accounts actively making edits, with over 10 edits being made per second.

Trust is timely. In an era in which fake news is trending, and brands are pulling advertising from large publishers because they don’t want their messaging associated with offensive content, trust is a critical factor that brands consider when re-evaluating digital ad strategies.


Social media trends 2018: forget Facebook, it’s all about messaging apps

How quickly technology moves on. Just when you think you have social media sussed, a new trend comes along that throws the proverbial curve ball.

In 2017, we saw Facebook lead the way as the world’s largest referrer of users to news websites, keeping the previous top spot holder, search engine giant Google, at bay. Similarly, Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo sharing site, saw staggering growth that put its total users at 600 million. Twitter’s fortunes, however, appeared to take a turn for the worse. The site’s number of total users flatlined in the last quarter of 2016, with the company reporting the same figure – 328 million – as it did in the first quarter.

With a growing number of news organisations pouring additional resources into delivering their content via the big social platforms, the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appear to hold all the cards.

So, what will 2018 hold for social media?

At the FCC’s Journalism Conference in April, keynote speaker and new South China Morning Post CEO Gary Liu predicted that messaging apps would overtake Facebook as the primary source of news content delivery.

Liu, previously CEO of aggregate news site Digg, outlined the struggles facing news organisations as advertising and print revenues decline and social media sites like Facebook become primary sources of news for so many.

“People are now going to fewer sources. Right now, Facebook is a leader in that,” he said. But he added: “The age of the app is moving on. People are going to messenger apps. We’re on the cusp of a new era.”

Liu was of course talking about the rise in use of messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Snapchat, among others. These instant chat apps enable smaller groups of users to share photos, videos and links. And, according to the Reuters Institute for Journalism’s latest Digital News Report, users are increasingly looking to these messaging apps as a source of news. Indeed, the BBC and New York Times are just two big news providers experimenting with delivering content via instant messaging apps.

Geoffrey Colon, Senior Marketing Communications Designer at Microsoft, and author of Disruptive Marketing, echoed these sentiments when the FCC asked him for his 2018 social media trend predictions.

He said: “Number one – a mass move away from big platform posting to messaging apps. While Facebook and Twitter keep records of number of accounts, what they don’t disclose is how many times people use those accounts or how active they are.

“While the average user supposedly checks their accounts on average 16 times per day, the trend of the past few years towards small discussions on SMS, WeChat and WhatsApp are gaining steam. The reason is the need to be less filtered in these environments, more intimate and more authentic. The mass publishing to 2,000 “friends” in a one-way amplification loudspeaker manner is collapsing to platforms where only a select few can see what you’re communicating. The reason? Less distraction from ads and the ability to be less filtered.”

Colon’s second prediction is that we would see growth in Augmented Reality-driven (AR) mobile apps. He added: “Because iOS 11 contains ARKit, more of what we’ll see posted on social media may be coded for Augmented Reality. This has been driven the past few years via Snapchat but now will tip more mainstream due to the ability of anyone to code anything to be AR-enabled. We’ll see much more home advertising and art that is AR-enabled and much of this will be shared across social media. AR is to 2018 like YouTube video was to 2008.”

This is great news for social media marketers, who will likely see an increase in demand for their services as companies and publishers scramble to keep up with the latest technology in order to deliver monetisable content.

See Messaging App stats for 2020 here.

Obituary: Sir David Tang

David Tang had a long connection with the FCC: as a speaker on four occasions from the early 90s; and as a friend to a number of members. Sadly, he is no longer with us to entertain and inform us with his wit, directness and sometimes penetrating insights… and he turned political incorrectness into an artform. He was also a shameless dropper of names, though quite often in an amusing context. And he did know all those names and they knew his.

Sir David Tang's last visit to the FCC was in February 2016. Photo: FCC Sir David Tang’s last visit to the FCC was in February 2016. Photo: FCC

His last visit to the FCC was in February 2016 when in an amusing, erudite and at times inspirational speech, he talked about what has happened in  Hong Kong and what needs to done. He was highly critical of CY Leung’s leadership — and slightly less so of his successor Carrie Lam — and his and the government’s handling of the Umbrella Movement, “perhaps the single most significant political event in Hong Kong since the riots in 1967”.

In this talk, which went viral on social media, he said CY didn’t “have the bottle to confront difficult issues” and often showed his “contempt… for the citizens of Hong Hong”.

When Tang established the China Club in Hong Kong in 1991 — with its wonderful art collection and library — he engaged two FCC photographers Bob Davis and Richard Dobson to do some shots. Both preferred a club membership in lieu of fees… and got them. Bob dined out on that story for years.

Another photographer Guy Nowell lived next door to Tang’s “country” house in Sai Kung. While he also did some well-paid photo shoots for Tang, he also became an occasional lunch guest. Guy remembers some great days of wonderful stories — and sometimes rants — told with great zest.

Although Tang was best known as an entrepreneur (Shanghai Tang, Island Tang and China Tang) and a philanthropist, he also dabbled in the journalistic arts as a columnist for the FT.

The FT’s House and Home section editor, Jane Owen, had her work cut out for her when she got Tang on board as columnist in 2010. He began as what was ostensibly an interior design agony uncle. Of course, it very quickly turned into a more general column full of name-dropping and anecdotes and what constitutes good manners. Some loved it, some hated it and some swore they would never read it… and then casually, without meaning to, got hooked on it.

Owen said one of his problems was with late delivery of the column with excuses “in a class of their own”. These included: “Its ancestral grave sweeping holiday today, I will be haunted if I work”; and “The Queen said I work too hard”. Tang rarely let facts get in the way of a good story, and his legendary political incorrectness kept the editors busy. When asked to be careful about the facts, Tang’s response: “Careful? Since when has progress of Man ever resulted from the insular approach to safety.”

In the early 90s author and journalist Simon Winchester was based in Hong Kong as a Guardian correspondent and freelancer. Following an interview with Tang, he was asked to curate the reference section for China Club library with, for the time, an extravagant budget. There was a lot of envy and gnashing of teeth around the FCC bar over such a plum job. In the course of that experience they became great friends as is Tang’s want. At this year’s Hong Kong Book Fair Tang hosted — apparently at times outrageously — Winchester as part of an author’s panel discussion. (It was just after Winchester left Hong Kong in 1997 that he penned his acclaimed bestseller “The Surgeon of Crowthorne”.)

There was no question that Tang was passionate about Hong Kong’s drive towards democracy and admired Chris Patten’s role in this. “You couldn’t have a greater champion than [Patten] in trying to install a system of government or politics that would maximise the possibility of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong,” Tang said.

Twitter to the rescue for American journalists detained in China

Two American correspondents who were detained in China got the word out via Twitter.

Canada’s Globe and Mail Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe used Twitter to spread word of his detention. Canada’s Globe and Mail Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe used Twitter to spread word of his detention.

The Asia correspondent for Canada’s Globe and Mail Nathan VanderKlippe and Voice of America reporter Ye Bing, who were detained in separate incidents by Chinese police in August managed to alert their employers — and followers — via Twitter about their predicament. While their detentions were brief, they are part of a pattern of harassment of foreign journalists by Chinese authorities.

Kashgar police detained VanderKlippe, the Beijing-based Globe and Mail journalist, for three hours, searched his bag and camera, and confiscated his laptop, the journalist said on Twitter. The journalist’s paper reported that police did not provide him with a reason for his detainment.

VanderKlippe was detained while interviewing residents in the township of Elishku about the security situation of the Uighur community, according to The Globe and Mail. Three police officers and several government officials approached the journalist and demanded that he follow them to a local government office, the report said.

VanderKlippe said on Twitter that after authorities gave him permission to leave, a car with two officers in it followed him. The reporter said that his computer was later returned to him along with a handwritten note, marked with an incorrect date, which read, “On July 24, 2017 at 1:35 Beijing time, [we] confiscated Nathan VanderKlippe’s Apple computer for operation purposes.”

Voice of America reporter Ye Bing's Twitter profile. Voice of America reporter Ye Bing’s Twitter profile.

The Xinjiang region has been a site of tension in recent years as Chinese authorities tighten controls in the area and criminalise religious activities of the Uighur population. Recently, residents of Elishku protested the arrests of 12 women for praying at a mosque and there were reports of allegations of illegal use of force and extra-judicial killings by Chinese security forces. Journalists covering the region have long been censored and jailed.

In the second incident, Chinese police Police obstructed and detained Voice of America (VOA) reporter Ye Bing while he was attempting to cover the closed trial of human rights activist Wu Gan from outside the Tianjin No.1 Intermediate People’s Court, according to VOA, a US government-funded broadcaster.

Ye tweeted that plainclothes police officers surrounded him and his assistant and held their arms for about 20 minutes to prevent the pair from taking photographs. Police then accused Ye of inciting violence outside the court and took him into custody where they forced the journalist to delete his photographs.

Ye’s phone, laptop, and other belongings were also confiscated, according to VOA. Ye said on Twitter that he and his assistant were released four hours after they were detained, and the journalists were returned their equipment.

The Tianjin police chief said there would be no criminal charges against the reporter and his assistant, according to a VOA article that quoted Ye.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has been on the case for both journalists. “People living inside and outside China have a right to know what is going on in the country, and there is no legal basis for harassing foreign correspondents who interview Chinese citizens,” said CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator Steven Butler. “China needs to stop trying to block coverage of sensitive stories and Chinese police need to stop harassing and blocking journalists who are merely doing their jobs.”

Conditions for the international press in China continue to deteriorate. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China 2016 survey of working conditions for international journalists found that more than half of respondents had been subjected to harassment, violence, or interference while attempting to report in China. Conditions for the local media are even worse, with journalists arrested, sentenced to years in prison, and subject to strict censorship requirements.

Social media curbs

As we know, life is much more difficult for Chinese journalists working within the social media sphere: jail rather than detention. In August journalist Lu Yuyu, who documented domestic protests in China on social media platforms under the moniker “Not News”, was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”.

Lu Yuyu: Jailed for documenting protests in China. Lu Yuyu: Jailed for documenting protests in China.

Police detained Lu and Li Dingyu, his personal and professional partner who worked with him documenting protests, in June last year. One of Lu’s lawyers, Wang Zongyue, in September told activists that prison officials had beaten the journalist in jail and that Lu had gone on hunger strike.

Li was released after an April trial on the same charge, although no verdict has been announced in that case, according to the website Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Lu is a former migrant worker from Guizhou Province who began reporting and documenting protests around China in October 2012. Lu and Li documented protests against land expropriation, wage arrears, official corruption, and environmental pollution, verifying photos, videos, and textual accounts from social media, then republishing the information on a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter, Weibo, Blogspot, YouTube and Google Drive.

“Not News” collected a vast record of protests. In 2015 alone, Lu and Li documented more than 30,000 protests of various sorts, according to the Chinese-language website The Chinese government stopped publishing statistics of these kinds of protests after 2007, when more than 100,000 incidents were recorded for that year alone, according to the site.

Closer to home

Macau’s Public Security Police Force at the end of August denied entry to four Hong Kong journalists, who were planning to report on the area’s recovery and rescue operations in the wake of Typhoon Hato. One journalist was from the South China Morning Post, one from the Chinese-language online publication HK01, and two were from the Apple Daily.

Macau immigration authorities briefly detained the reporters at the Outer Harbor border checkpoint with Hong Kong, and then asked the four to sign a notice stating they “posed a risk to the stability of internal security,” HK01 reported.

SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP

The Macau Serviços de Polícia Unitários commissioner Ma Io Kun told reporters at a press conference the same day that the denial of entry had nothing to do with the four journalists’ profession, and that the government of Macau fully respects press freedom, according to media reports. When reporters at the press conference asked, Ma refused to explain how the journalists posed a threat to Macau’s security.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) and the Hong Kong Press Photographers’ Association (HKPPA) released a joint statement expressing regret over the obstruction. The Macau Portuguese and English Press Association, in a statement on Facebook, said local authorities’ explanation was “incomprehensible and unsatisfactory”.

SCMP photographer Felix Wong has previously been barred from entering Macau, according to Teledifusão de Macau, a local public broadcasting service.

Hong Kong residents are supposed to have free entry into Macau, however, the HKJA and other groups have documented past cases in which journalists have been denied entry for alleged security reasons.

Control widens

Instant-messaging apps, video streaming and other new content platforms in China will face closer scrutiny under new rules issued by the country’s internet regulators that will come into effect from December 1. The Cyberspace Administration of China said messaging apps and other new forms of information dissemination can be used to engage in illegal behaviour and that operators will soon be required to conduct extensive reviews to ensure they aren’t used to spread illegal content. The agency said the new technologies “can be used by criminals to spread illegal information and undertake criminal activity, harming the lawful interests of citizens, legal persons and other organisations”.

In a separate announcement, the regulator introduced new rules governing “internet content managers” – code for online censors – that require them to undergo 40 hours of government training over a period of three years to ensure that they are promoting socialist values.

Introducing… FCC new members, Nov/Dec 2017

The latest group of members to join the FCC is, as always, an interesting bunch. The membership committee meets regularly to go through the applications and are always impressed by the diversity of the prospective members. As you would expect there’s a healthy mix of Correspondents, Journalists and Associates – and all have interesting tales to tell – so if you see a new face at the bar, please make them feel welcome. Below are profiles of just some of the latest ‘intake’.

Jonathan Addis

Jon and Corky Adis Jon and Corky Adis

Hello. I’m Jon Addis, married to Caroline. Until 2011 I worked for HSBC for 30 years, travelling and living in many countries around the world. Since then I have mainly been resting though I do chair the China Coast Community old people’s home and am a director of a start-up online money transfer business, WorldRemit.

I am currently studying tropical forestry at Bangor University (from a distance).

Hobbies are walking, skiing, golfing and an occasional sail. I also sing with the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir.  We split our time between Hong Kong and Spain, where we have a house in Andalusia.  I’ve taken part in the FCC quiz for many years and am delighted that I can now buy my own drinks.


Regina Chan

Regina Chan Regina Chan

I am a US and Hong Kong qualified lawyer. Based in Hong Kong, I have been working for US technology firms listed on the Nasdaq for more than a decade. My work has included expanding and growing business in the Asia Pacific region; spearheading compliance programmes and policies in view of the changing regulatory landscapes; setting up Channel Partner due diligence programmes in 2008 and Dawn Raid Guidelines for China in 2014.

I am also a founding member of  the Asia Council and the primary employment legal lead in both non-contentious and contentious employment issues. I have also received an award from the renowned Legal 500 as one of the 100 China & Hong Kong Most Influential Lawyers in Business in 2017.

Tamora Chan

Tamora Chan Tamora Chan

I was born in Hong Kong of a Chinese mother and British father and lived here during the 70s and 80s before my family relocated to SE Asia. Hong Kong always felt most like home so I spent a year teaching English in Hangzhou in 1991 before studying Modern Chinese Studies with Russian at university in Britain.

I joined Reuters in 1998 and worked as a correspondent for 12 years, mostly in Asia (including seven years in Beijing) but also in Paris. I then returned to Hong Kong and switched to a career spanning PR and marketing and communications.

I am married with four children (two born in Beijing, two born in Hong Kong). I speak English, and fluent Mandarin and French.

Dr. Mehdi Fakheri

Dr. Mehdi Fakheri Dr. Mehdi Fakheri

I was born and grew up in Tehran, Iran. I studied political science and international relations in Tehran and Madrid, joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1980. I married in 1983 and have three children, now in their thirties.

Before Hong Kong, I have been posted in Spain, Mexico, Switzerland, and therefore speak Persian, Spanish, English and French. I love travelling and have travelled to 82 countries. My other hobbies are hiking, running, music and books. I have been lucky to hike most of Hong Kong trails and although they are not as high as Damavand (5678 m) that I climbed once, I enjoyed them a lot because of the different scenery and landscape.

I have written some books and articles on globalisation, international political economy and the world trade system. The next project I am planning to start is on “Cultural diversity and human richness”, based on my experiences in different countries, part of which could also be observed in the FCC and its valuable pool of intellectuals.

Bennett Marcus

Bennett Marcus Bennett Marcus

I’m a freelance journalist, recently relocated from New York, where I literally fell into a journalism career covering celebrities and the city’s biggest events, from the Met Gala to Game of Thrones premieres. My interviews revealed that David Beckham’s motorcycle riding terrifies his wife, Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, loves flying on private jets, Carla Bruni wakes up Sarkozy in the middle of the night to listen to new songs that she’s written, and George Clooney’s space suit in “Gravity” was almost as uncomfortable as his Batsuit. Jared Kushner was furious with me after I broke the story of his budding romance with Ivanka Trump, in 2007.

I moved to Hong Kong with my husband, Shi-Yan Chao, who got a job teaching film at Baptist University. I’m addicted to the New York Times crossword app, and long for weather cool enough for wearing wool.

Davinia Tang

Davinia Tang Davinia Tang

My career started out in IT support at Credit Suisse in London, but nearly 20 years on, life has taken me far from those lonesome server days. Now married with three young kids in Hong Kong, life is noisy and colourful.

To add to the mayhem, my brother and I are working hard on our own health & beauty start-up. We have always felt health advocacy to be our calling, sparked by my recovery process after sustaining facial injuries in a head-on hit and run accident.

My brother is a qualified general and trauma surgeon, and I in turn attained an internationally recognised diploma in beauty therapy from Switzerland in order to have the necessary qualification and knowledge to establish DAVISAGE. Together, we hope to change the “face” of the future by empowering our customers to take control of their health and beauty. We aim to launch DAVISAGE in a few months’ time, and look forward to sharing exciting news with our FCC family!

Dr. Yuen Cheuk Wai

Dr Yuen Cheuk Wai Dr Yuen Cheuk Wai

I am Dr Yuen Cheuk Wai, an emergency physician. It is my honour to become a member of FCC.

I enjoy the lunch seminars very much. The seminars cover a wide range of subjects which broaden my views and thoughts.

I studied medicine in CUHK and am currently working in a private hospital. My hobbies include tennis and sailing. I look forward to making some new friends in the FCC.


Marguerite T Yates

Marguerite T Yates Marguerite T Yates

Reading Arabic at Yale took me to the Middle East where I worked in Iran, taught in a village school in Lebanon and worked as a reporter in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Yemen. Most of my professional life since has been spent in France where I was a member of the French elite civil service although I am not French, thanks to a pre-Brexit UK passport. Today, besides working for HSBC in Hong Kong, I consult for the IMF and other multilateral institutions on financial market development.

I am proud to have created Clubhouse France, a network of centres to help people with mental illness reclaim their lives and get back to work. I love travelling, cross-country skiing and have toured much of Europe by bicycle.

I came to Hong Kong to understand the world from the Asian vantage point. I am delighted to join the FCC and look forward to meeting its members.

Karson Yiu

Karson Yiu Karson Yiu

Born in Canada, I spent my teenage years in Hong Kong growing up in a family of newspaper journalists. Naturally I rebelled and ventured into realm of TV and video.

I am currently the Asia-based Coordinating Producer for ABC News (US) and have recently returned to Hong Kong with my family after many years away. I am an alumni of GSIS in Hong Kong and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in the States.

I started my career at ABC News as an assistant in New York, then worked my way up as a producer for Nightline before moving to Beijing in 2011 to head up the bureau there. I have enjoyed travelling the region on assignment ever since. My wife Stacey Chow and I are thrilled to join the FCC and looking forward to having a drink or two or three with you all at the bar.


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