Telling whether a story is real and whether it has been written in a credible way is a challenge. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is looking at ways to address this.
MMA has launched a new website, and one tab stands out in particular: online tools. Clicking it reveals a wealth of resources that often help tell the story behind a story. The tools cater for two groups, ordinary members of the public as well as journalists.
“Fundamentally what we’re trying to do is to get people to interrogate the content that they consume, because these days one of the most critical skills you can have is learning how to determine and value the information that you get and how to filter it,” says MMA director, William Bird.
The tools on offer
The tools include:
Churnalism – Explores how much copy and pasting is done in news.
Newsdiffs – Tracks the unseen edits done to online news articles.
Agenda Setter – Looks at which journalists, media houses and politicians are setting the agenda on Twitter.
Media Mic – Analyses who speaks most in South African media.
MDI – Explores how diverse media is in South Africa.
Wazimap – Offers a wealth of data and statistics on South Africa’s population.
Listenup – Allows you to create your own online customised surveys.
TV Diet – Analyses how healthy your television viewing is.
Shika Moto – A wi-fi network that allows users to communicate for free.
Hashplay – Provides guidance for children on how to make informed decisions when online and how to protect themselves.
Web Rangers – A digital literacy programme for the young people.
Contributing to broader media
While the tools are designed to aid individuals in their quest for reliable information, they also contribute to those conversations around broader media matters.
“It also gives you tools to critically engage in ongoing debates. Bird explains. “So to say that the media are all the same, is just not true. These kinds of big statements that get bandied about, it’s just not accurate.”
Bird says that for journalists, the tools offer insights into the way that they work and the way that they operate. “Fundamentally, journalism is a public good and it fulfils a critical role in our society and these days we need to be highlighting those media and journalists that do a good job,” he says.
Steering away from the term ‘fake news’
While most of the tools are designed to combat the scourge of fake news, Bird says MMA deliberately steers away from using that term. “A lot of the stories that are published on fake news or dodgy sites are not necessarily untrue. It’s just that they fabricate some parts of it or they mislead you about elements of it. So you can’t say it is fake, but it is certainly not information you should trust or that is credible or reliable,” he says.
A tool that is currently in development that will soon be added to MMA’s bouquet is Open and Disclose, which will help people see who owns what media. This, Bird says, will show readers where they get their news from and help them assess which media can be trusted most. The tool will be released before the end of the year.
Bird encourages everyone to visit the tools site, and play around with the tools in order to not only benefit themselves, but also media as a whole. “There are a lot of problems with our media, this we know,” he says. “It’s one thing to say there are challenges around quality, it’s quite another to say that you can’t rely on them to get reasonably credible information … It’s also important to highlight and give credence to those media that are credible and legitimate.”
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8