The Fake News Monitoring Committee at the Ministry of Information has recorded a total of 1,938 cases of fake news items in 2021 with messages aimed to incite criminal acts, cause social chaos or insult the country’s leaders. This indicated a slight increase in activity compared to last year.

According to the committee’s report released on December 17, among the 1,938 cases there were 1,023 fake news items intended to incite criticism of the government via disinformation, 809 cases of insults to the King and the nation’s leaders and 106 cases of fake news with the potential to cause social chaos.

Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn told The Post on December 19 that most of the fake news items were posted by a total of 383 social media accounts on platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Youtube or via websites.

“Compared to 2020 – the incidents have slightly increased. The uptick could just be due to the fact that there are simply a larger number of social media accounts on services like Facebook with each passing year. The fake news being spread often qualifies as criminal incitement or illegally insulting the King or government leaders,” Sophorn said.

He said the authorities are investigating all sources that spread fake news but it was not always possible to identify the people behind the accounts and in some cases they are located in other jurisdictions outside of Cambodia.

“Spreading fake news is an incitement that badly impacts our society, public order, social security and the private lives of people,” he said, calling on all social media users to only share authentic news with clear attribution from trusted sources in order to serve the public good.

Sophorn urged all media outlets to counter fake news by publishing and broadcasting the truth in response to particularly viral fake news items.

The committee also found that 11 media institutions registered with the ministry had published 99 articles with exaggerated contents or without verification. All 99 cases have been forwarded to an inter-ministerial working group for further action.

It is also requesting cooperation from other partners, especially the tech corporations running the social media platforms, to identify all suspects who have spread fake news.

Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, told The Post that the number of instances of fake news had increased since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Fake news has become a big problem for society, making it hard for the public to distinguish what is true and what is false because most people do not have the necessary skills or resources required to verify the truth. Most fake news items are about controversial topics, making people more susceptible to believing them,” he said.

One of the solutions to this problem, he said, is to increase media literacy among the youth and the general public so that they are able to verify factual information using some of the same techniques and skills used by professional journalists.

The public should also learn not to automatically trust information they find on social media and remain sceptical about it and refrain from sharing the information until they have verified it with other sources.

For starters, he suggested that they look at who published the article, whether other media outlets that they trust or are more established are reporting anything similar, and consider whether the information is being presented in a neutral or objective manner or if the presentation and contents are intentionally shocking or inflammatory.