Let’s talk about fake news and our responsibility in curbing it

By Shaoor Munir on
September 11, 2018
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A few days ago, the news about Shahid Khan donating 1 billion dollars spread like wildfire. It once again raised the topic of fake news and how easily it spreads from one platform to another, engulfing the whole country, and sometimes the world in a state of delusion and confusion about many sensitive issues.

Fake news can be seemingly harmless, just like the news about Shahid Khan, with people and media houses sharing news without sparing a thought about the potential consequences and effects of that news on others and the image of their own institutions. Reporting has always had the time factor against it but nowadays it seems more about racing a marathon than running a marathon — you care only about coming first and not about the purpose of the activity itself. This race has reduced the time allocated for verification and analysis of news to ascertain its authenticity and map out its effect.

Sensationalism and appealing to emotion

There are a lot of different examples in the past few years which point towards the increasing role of social media in spreading such fake news and disinformation. Humans, by nature, are an emotional being. Any news which appeals to that emotional side of people is shared vehemently. Then comes the aspect of familiarity, where news shared by any close relative is considered to be more authentic and reliable because apparently he/she never lies. These factors lead to a chain reaction and make that fake information viral. In a democratic environment like Pakistan, where news is not controlled through a central power, these viral fake news pieces which originated due to misinformation (lack of proper information) or disinformation (intentionally twisting information) ends up being portrayed as real news on the big media houses, with most spending little to no effort in verifying the source of the news. Media houses are looking for news which creates sensationalism; whatever creates sensationalism, it sells more.

The case of Momo Challenge

Spreading the fake news and selling sensationalism isn’t only the fault of common people, a big responsibility lies on media houses like, well like TechJuice. A good example of that is the recent controversy about the Momo challenge and Blue Whale game. Although it is necessary to warn the public against the potential risks of such activities, it is also necessary to balance between providing necessary information and giving means of destruction in the hands of people. A few isolated incidents of Momo challenge were portrayed as a huge impending social issue, which allowed many people to take advantage of that fear and start their own version of the challenge, turning the issue into a bigger problem than it previously was. Despite only a few reported incidents around the world, the hype created around Momo challenge was so much that the new government decided to ban these activities in Pakistan, with no clear way to ban such games and activities currently available to law enforcement agencies.


It is important to judge if the news is worth reporting or not, whether the views and popularity of the news are overshadowing the potential risks that come with reporting such information.

The case of 5,000 Rupees Note

Another recent example of a news taking off though WhatsApp groups and Twitter posts are about the potential decision by State Bank of Pakistan to ban the 5,000 Rupees note. Like all other news which creates unnecessary panic among an already on the edge society, this news took off quickly too and forced State Bank to release a statement denying any such plan in the foreseeable future.

Although this news and the Shahid Khan news aren’t directly harmful to anyone, they still ruin the reputation of certain causes and create uncertainty about the stability of important government institutions.

Tackling the fake news epidemic

Propagation of fake news isn’t an unusual or unnatural phenomenon, rather it’s an inevitable result of more and more people relying on social media to get their news rather than print media. In a fast-paced world powered by technology, it is important to identify the problem and make use of all the resources available at our disposal to tackle this growing issue, be it educating the masses or making sure that media houses have a proper check and balance system implemented at their end. So here are a few steps that can be taken to reduce this issue:

What can the government do?

The government, although the most powerful party in this whole scenario, has the least amount of say over what gets published and what is propagated. This comes under the freedom of speech and the prerogative of the press to write what they think is right. Too much meddling by government, even for a good cause, is a recipe of disaster for freedom of the press. The government can only provide a few guidelines which can be on the lines of moral responsibilities to be kept in mind by the media houses.

What can the media houses do?

A lot of responsibility falls on the shoulders of media houses when it comes to stopping the flow of fake news. They are not only responsible for checking their own publications for misinformation and false narrative, but they should also be quick to point out and negate any false information being spread by another media house. Their responsibility is to follow the journalistic standard of critically evaluating a lead before deciding whether it satisfies the criteria for being published as a news or not. They should also hold themselves accountable for any news that is published on their platform and is later proven to be falsified.

What can the people do?

The biggest responsibility, unfortunately, still lies with the people. In the age of modern communication, common readers are the biggest source of spreading information, not the giant media houses. A media house or a news channel can only affect its own viewers or readers, but the people who are receptors of that news are responsible for sharing it further with their friends and followers, creating a chain reaction which has the potential of quickly engulfing the whole society. As I previously mentioned in the article about Shahid Khan’s donation of 1 billion dollars to the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of Pakistan Dam Fund, here are 5 key questions that readers should ask themselves before forwarding a news article:

  • Is there a credible source which has confirmed this information?
    • A credible source does not include your close relatives who never tell a lie. A credible source is an organization or a person who can be held accountable for spreading misinformation. Official spokesperson and recognized newspapers are a good example of credible sources.
  • Does the news make sense?
    • Ask yourself if the news makes sense, even if there is a shred of doubt that such a news is preposterous, it is better to avoid spreading it even more. For example, a person donating 22 percent of his wealth for the dam fund does not entirely make sense.
  • Is the news inciting hate and violence against an individual or a group?
    • If the news is structured in a way that it targets a certain individual or a group, and can be used to incite violence against them, it is safer to not share that news and research further to make sure no innocent person becomes a victim of misinformation.
  • Check the date of the news
    • Check if the news has been posted before and the matter has been resolved before sharing it. Reposting older news does not usually help in solving current issues.
  • Check if its a joke or satire
    • Be sure to verify the intent of the author behind writing the news. Satire is a literary device which uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to raise awareness about some issue. It is not wise to take satire literally and try to pass it on as news.

By making sure that each part of the modern communication paradigm follows through their responsibility, we can start towards curbing the spread of fake news, something which is quickly becoming a necessity with the increase in people who are relying only on online sources to get their information.

 
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