We live in a digital age where communication can happen at lightning speed, geographical or spatial barriers do not pose a problem anymore. Smartphone technology and the internet has altered the information flow in a phenomenal way. Every day we are bombarded with information be it useful news or a marketing advertisement. We are made to consume these kinds of stuff daily. Smartphones have become a necessary evil in our life.
Fake news is also known as junk news, pseudo-news, or hoax news is a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media. Digital news has brought back and increased the usage of fake news, or yellow journalism. The news is then often reverberated as misinformation in social media but occasionally finds its way to the mainstream media as well. Fake news is written and published usually with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership. Similarly, click-bait stories and headlines earn advertising revenue from this activity .
Claire Wardle  has identified 7 types of mis – and disinformation as shown in the figure below.
The incidence of fake news is growing across the globe. In 2012, there was just one journalist in jail on fake-news charges. By 2014, there were eight. Then came 2016, when the most dramatic rise began, in which 16 journalists worldwide were in jail on fake-news charges. Overall, between 2012 and 2019, there have been 65 journalists imprisoned on false-news charges .
Why people fake news?
Most of the time the person who are associated with the fake news remains anonymous. We can never know who really have manufactured it. People who invent fake news may do it for a multitude of reasons:
- Just to have fun
- Out of hatred, spite or jealousy;
- To get revenge, teach someone a lesson;
- To create confusion among people;
- For political reasons;
- To promote an ideology;
- To harm a business competitor;
- To promote products;
- But especially because it pays!
Fake news is a big business these days. The fake news item on the accident due to Pokémon Go was shared 60,000 times on Facebook and received 150,000 Likes. Thanks to this fake news, somebody made a lot of money in ad revenue. Some fake news sites made thousands of dollars per month in advertising revenue during the last American election campaign . Recently, someone just to have fun shared a genuinely looking news on WhatsApp that the schools of Kano will be closed till November due to COVID-19 problem, which was later found out to be fake.
Fake news has a variety of impacts, depending on the type of information conveyed. The creators of fake news arrange to have it look so real that I’ve fallen victim to it myself when it hit my confirmation bias. I understand those who dispense spurious medical advice in good faith. Many times I had rushed to forward such sensational news on WhatsApp without verifying it because I want to be the first one off the block. Later, I had to repent that how I was tricked to spread misinformation that suited my taste. Though regularly I do share R-rated wink-wink Playboy jokes to my middle-aged friends to make them feel that they are still hormonal teenagers, I don’t feel that I am doing something impish or wrong. However, sharing a piece of fake news makes me feel sick.
The fake news can be used for political reasons. Fake Pakistani Twitter account posing as the handle of "H.H. Mona Bint Fahd Al Said," the Omani princess was caught spreading misinformation and anti-India content on Twitter. Tweets made by the account went viral amid a wave of controversy following concerns raised by the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is made up of 57 nations, raised concerns regarding growing Islamophobia in India. The tweet instantly went viral and was shared by the handles of several social media users as well as the official handles of the Pakistani government. Many in India outraged against the tweet and called for a boycott of Omani royalty within India. The discovery comes amid a trend in Pakistani social media sphere of Twitter account holders changing their names and impersonating Saudi royalty following IOC's statement .
How can we curb Fake News?
We all have a crucial role to play in the curbing of fake news. Every time we passively accept information without double-checking or share a post, image, or video before we’ve verified it, we’re adding to the noise and confusion. The ecosystem is now so polluted, we have to take responsibility for independently checking what we see online. To curb fake news WhatsApp has set a limit on the number of times a user can pass on a forwarded message on the instant messaging platform. Under this new restriction, being rolled out recently, frequently forwarded messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time. The Facebook-owned company explained that its previous exercise of limiting a forwarded message to five chats led to a 25% reduction in message forwards globally at the time. Many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful . However, WhatsApp is a major propagator of fake news. Limiting the forwarding of chat will definitely curb the proliferation of fake news.
- Fake News. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news
- Wardle C. Fake news. It’s complicated. First Draft 2017. https://tinyurl.com/u8altzq
- Berger M. There’s a worrying rise in journalists being arrested for ‘fake news’ around the world. Washington Post 2019. https://tinyurl.com/rejqd4f
- Why is fake news invented? https://tinyurl.com/y7dgt92k
- Fact Check: Omani Princess' viral Tweet about expelling Indian workers is fake. https://tinyurl.com/y9xvh2ld
- Bureau FE. Curbing fake news: WhatsApp sets limit to forwarded messages. April 8, 2020. https://tinyurl.com/yaqabqqj
Dr. Sanjoy Kumar Pal is a Professor of Biology in Skyline University Nigeria. He has a PhD. in Animal Genetics from Indian Veterinary Research Institute, India.