Fake news – the act of spreading false information – is already among the biggest problems the world is facing today. The term fake news can be divided into misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation refers to a genuine or honest mistake which leads to errors or gaps in information whereas disinformation is a planned activity where a person or a team spread false information to achieve an ulterior motive. We all have encountered fake news at least once in recent times and probably made an erroneous or incorrect conclusion on the basis of wrong facts
In today’s world where we are surrounded by information media such as news channels, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms it is really hard for us to tell which information is genuine and which is not. What is a fact and what is an opinion it is difficult to differentiate. We must not forget that these information sharing media handles are running a business, and in order to make profit they can sell whatever attracts the audience. Let us not forget the adage, “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots”.
Most fake news are based on eye-catching headlines or thumbnails that spread false information, also called clickbaits. Their objective is to make you click on the article or link or a video which is basically to get your attention in order to increase their viewers count to make more profit. Unfortunately, this has arisen due to one of the drawbacks of a democratic society. Since everyone has a right to speak, the one with a better story and narrative skills can often win people’s trust without even caring about the facts and truths. In addition, we must not forget that we live in the age of photoshop and easy edit tools, which can draw people into creating fake news easily. Thus, photos and videos don’t guarantee an event has taken place; the only way to gather trust worthy news would be tune into recognized sources of information dissemination such as formal news outlets or government sources.
To deal with the hoaxes and disinformation, everyone including the government, the media, and the viewers will have to come together. The government should encourage people to get their information from credible sources. Punishing those spreading disinformation and overviewing the information being shared with the masses is also the government’s job. The government should ensure that the citizens have access to honest and genuine information. Regulating journalism is yet another duty of the government. This doesn’t mean to silence those talking in favor or against a party or situation. Regulating media simply means making sure that no hatred against a community or partial news is being spread against any topic. Media should make sure that they are not covering just one part of the story and not influencing their audience to think in a particular way. Another important point to note here is that the fake news in today’s world primarily originate through the platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or Google. While these tech giants claim they have filtering technology to mitigate the spread of fake news, they seem to have a very little effect on how people share unverifiable facts or news reports.
Let us understand why can’t education and filtering technologies help us to put a stop to fake news. In total contrast to a virus, this false information doesn’t have to infect random people because all social media apps have enough information wealth to categorize the ones most susceptible. These victims will now start vouching and sharing this false information and that’s how this infection starts. Thus, unless and until each user on the Internet is smart enough to check the credibility of news, education won’t be able to put a stop to it. All these social media businesses run on the basis of information they gather. With such big chunks of data, misinformation can be planned and planted precisely into the heads of poorly informed people. Changing the business model of these information-based companies doesn’t seem to be an option as of now.
So, do all the above arguments mean no social media equals no fake news? Absolutely not. In fact, most people agree that social media is a step forward in the fight against fake news. Hidden propaganda and conspiracies are not a new thing they have been here for a long time trying to divide humans. Only the method used to deliver false information has been changed, not the idea or the intent. Instead of telling lies on their face, the villains are now working behind a computer screen. So how is it better? Well, social media has given a voice to everyone be it a rich guy, a poor guy, a good guy, or someone planning evil. Unlike past times where you would need power and money to spread these kinds of lies. Thus, the powerful ones as well as the wealthier and poor ones can also share their ideas and stories to be heard by millions.
As we all have heard, every publicity is good publicity, and these catchy news articles or videos never fail to get love or hatred out of people in the form of likes or comments which in turn makes it popular and increases its reach. Another important point to note here is that the greater the number of times a person sees a piece of information the more he is likely to believe it. So in order to fight against it, the only solution is to ignore it for reducing its visibility on the Internet.
Fake news took such a serious turn during the pandemic that Prime Minister Modi had to publicly urge to stop sharing messages promoting misinformation regarding COVID-19 such as home remedies that have not been tested or verified and fake advisories. Recently, the tractor rally held by farmers to protest the new bill on 26th January was misreported even by reputed news channels when the death of an agitator was blamed on police actions while the real reason was a tractor accident due to the person’s own miscalculation.
Sometimes, the fake news only misinform people but also worsen sensitive situations. The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 were ignited by videos and messages circulated on Whatsapp and took lives of many and homes of thousands. Another result of the recent false information spread on social media is the hesitancy of people towards the COVID-19 vaccine, which is a life-threatening matter.
Some measures to prevent oneself from falling for such fake news can include, spotting sponsored content. Since fake news is spread to achieve some form of goal or profit these are generally sponsored so lookout for a tiny advertisement text or sponsored logo on the video or post to understand if the news is being made to spread or if it is spreading naturally. Most of the fake news is accompanied by some eye-catching images, you can always reverse search these images on Google to know where these might have been taken from. It can also help you detect if the image has been tampered with or not. Apart from the lies a major section of fake news also consists of half news. These are the videos or posts of which only a certain section is shown. Spending just a little time on the sources of disinformation can unravel the truth and agenda behind a piece of fake news. Many times it’s the people who are not able to understand the headlines. Read thoroughly to understand if the writer was trying to be humorous or satirical. Another thing one can do is confront the person spreading fake news, and that must be done privately because proving them wrong in public can make them look gullible and get defensive and this is not what one might want. It might be an honest mistake on their behalf so one should try to make them understand the wrongs about it.
Fake news has become a profession; we can find millions of websites and platforms that are ready to post anything for a price. A simple step to identify this can be to check out the profile, see if the has ever been used to spread fake news in the past. A person posting hundreds of tweets daily talking about multiple topics, in multiple languages can’t be trusted. Social media algorithms suggest content similar to what you have liked in the past and this can slowly make you an extremist for a topic. One must also watch content that contradicts their thinking to get the whole story and not just one point of view.
Overall, we all should be extremely careful and skeptical while getting any information in today’s era!
-Priyanshi Mishra (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: pnas.org