Civilization and indeed mankind has evolved over the centuries to be what it is today. From the earliest of times trough the industrial revolution to the present time where technology is constantly advancing in leaps and bounds. Each period of human development has had its own unique characteristics and challenges. With the advent of high speed internet access, information gathering and dissemination can be done within a few minutes. Gone are the days when people had to rely on newspapers, analogue radios or television sets to get information about happenings in the world.
In today's digital world there is virtually no limit as to how much information one can get access to, the challenge now is how much of it is wholesome and can be consumed by the individual before being overloaded. While in itself the ease of passage or distribution is welcome, there is a frightening dimension which is gradually rearing it's ugly head. This is the issue of the virus called fake news.
Fake news entails either fabricating stories or manipulating the truth to support or suit a particular narrative. Its effects can range from limited online impact to actual loss of human lives or damage to properties. The shocking thing about fake news is that it literally spreads faster than the truth. Those guilty of creating or spreading fake news include individuals as well as media outlets. Sometimes people innocently spread fake news while at other times it is due to sinister or mischievous motives.
The photo above was the headline sometime in 2013 when the twitter account of Associated Press (AP) was hacked and used to make a tweet that there had been an attack on the White House which resulted in the then President of the United States (Barrack Obama) being injured. The tweet turned out to be one containing fake news. Guess what? It was reported that it had been retweeted over four thousand times in under five minutes.
The real target of the hackers was the stock market as the tweet for the brief period it was made caused the Dow Jones to go negative. It was further reported by CBC that $20 billion worth of equity positions changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange as a result of the effect of that tweet and its subsequent debunking by the White House. This gives you an indication as to how powerful and the impact fake news can have.
The run up to the upcoming Presidential elections in the United States has seen a lot of disinformation campaigns being waged. The level of sophistication this time around is quite alarming. In the 2016 elections , the foreign attempts at manipulation were seen to be emanating from outside the United States. The approach now adopted by those entities as exposed in a recent report is to get American citizens to act on their behest without knowing that they are aiding foreign attempts at manipulating the outcome of the elections via misinformation. This is achieved by setting up websites which on the surface appear legitimate and to be of American origin while in reality being products of the foreign agents or interests. Gladly though the American security agencies appear to have been up and doing in combating these attempts at manipulation via this means.
Nigeria in West Africa has been in the spotlight for the last couple of weeks due to protests against Police brutality. Tensions are high and there have been attempts at stoking tribal clashes in some parts of the country. A few hours ago, I came across a video which was shared in a WhatsApp group that I belong to. It was supposed to purportedly show officers of the Nigerian Army distributing arms to members of a particular ethnic group to attack youths from another tribe.
My first observation was that what was going on was actually a disarmament exercise and although I do not belong to the ethnic group being wrongly accused , the language being spoken did not sound like theirs. I had to forward the video to a friend who confirmed my observations and stated that the language being spoken was that of an etnic group from another part of the country. This was thereafter confirmed by another member of the WhatsApp group. I can only imagine how many would have forwarded that message without bothering or attempting to verify if it's caption matched it's content.
The recent protests against police brutality in Nigeria was sadly marred by a lot of misinformation. Some of which were clearly done deliberately while others could have indeed been honest mistakes. A tweet which went viral that the United Nations would intervene in the country if the protests went on for 30 days turned out to be false as no such mandate exists in the charter of the United Nations. Unfortunately the tweet which contained this erroneous information received thousands of retweets and was even shared on platforms outside twitter.
There were also cases of people being reported to be dead who have literally resurrected to debunk their said demise. These deliberate acts of misinformation rather than further the cause of the campaign against police brutality had negative impacts on the credibility of the movement. The sheer amount of misinformation during the protests prompted a BBC report on it. The link to the report is provided below.
Sadly some celebrities spread these misinformation. It is hoped that they did this without knowing that the information was false. If they had prior knowledge that the information was false it is indeed unfortunate and disheartening. What is expected is that the moment it was revealed that the previous information was false, all those who had spread it should have issued rejoinders or apologies.
However a troubling observation that has been made is that people hardly see the need to apologise for spreading misinformation. If this is as a result of the fear of losing followers or falling out of favour with them , it is the height of irresponsibility.
As a rule of thumb in order not to become an victim or an agent of misinformation or disinformation or fake news, always do your due diligence by:
The infographic below by IFLA.org is also a useful aid in spotting fake news.
My parting shot is this, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was aided to a large extent by the inciting broadcasts on RTLM radio, irresponsible use of social media via the spread of fake news can make that look like a child's play due to its unlimited reach and speed of disseminating information . Hence it is very worrisome that some celebrities are irresponsibly aiding the spread and rise of fake news via their social media handles.
If you follow any celebrity or social media influnencer as some like to be called, and he or she refuses to apologise for spreading fake news or taking down posts that contain fake news when it is pointed out to him or her, use the un-follow button. They are not worthy of your followership.
For further reading on the CBC report about the effect of the AP Twitter hack on the United States stock market see link below
Fake news bothers the people very much. You have highlighted the real fact. Good job. Carry on.