Reema Shrestha, a school teacher, was caught in a web of lies when she shared with her students a fake report on the death of a certain political leader that was shared on Facebook. The ballyhoo that Mrs Shrestha fell for is one of innumerable cases of fake news circulating in social media. Most of these death hoaxes might only amount to wishful thinking.
More and more people are turning to social media for their news. To tell the truth, social media being the main platform for users to update themselves with news of world affairs is not inconceivable—it’s just the lack of accountability of the news source that is the problem. Just register your account, be it Twitter or Facebook, follow some online news portals and there you have the newsfeed on your timeline. Having said that, how can you possibly be aware of the information you are receiving from these tools are in fact true?
Social media v/s fake news
Fabricated news stories are the rise because of the great demand for mass media by general audiences. The concern, however, is that fake news is now so easy to proliferate due to the accessibility and sheer vastness of social media applications. As John Narayan Parajuli, a journalist states, “One of the many things that social media do is it allow people to bypass gatekeeping in mainstream media which means they have their own channels to broadcast.”
Once registered, you have your personal account, pages you can create, YouTube channels to upload videos and relate and share your thoughts with millions and billions of other users.
Since people now are savvy in their use of social media, chances are that users might misuse the power and take to defaming others, creating sham accounts dedicated to spreading fake news. Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone was trending on Twitter in February, 2018 when his death due to prostate cancer went viral but online news portals like The Independent, BBC, Chicago Tribune assured that the news was a hoax and the actor was “alive and well and happy and healthy.” Likewise, former Beatles band member Paul McCartney, rapper Eminem, actor Tom Hanks are only few of the several names who have been the victims of celebrity death hoaxes.
Twitter and Facebook users had been galvanised by grief after the Las Vegas shooting that took place in October 2017, which killed more than 50 people. The incident was an opportunity for fake news to surface. Geary Danley was falsely accused to be the mastermind behind the mishap and some users even went far to claim that the man was a Democrat and was anti-Trump. By the same token, terror attacks in Paris (November 2015) and Manchester (May 2017) were phenomenal excuses for some social media users to spread false information of people who had gone missing.
Believe it or not
You have got a smartphone with you and everything that requires spreading information either on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. All of a sudden, you hear gunshots being fired outside your hotel room and you decide to capture the chaos as the incident intensifies. Once you manage to upload the video on social media, perhaps with a hashtag to make it widespread, it is likely that an outburst will be generated along with users viewing and sharing it simultaneously.
It is high time for us to realise that nothing is to be taken at face value when engaged in citizen journalism as Parajuli suggested, “There has to be a debate around what sort of content generated by citizen journalists can be accepted and seen as credible.”
Citizen journalists need to make sure that the news is reliable and does not appear to be bogus before sharing it to the social media. They need to make sure that the information has not been manipulated and audience is not spellbound by something that has never occurred. Right to free speech does not imply that they can put up something that is likely to inflict hysteria and question the credibility of journalism.
A wild-goose chase
A study in 2016 conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News inferred that US adults who mentioned Facebook as their major news source were likely to see dodgy news headlines as real than those relying less on the site for the news. Photoshop software and AI are increasingly making fake news/images/videos look real more than ever which signify that it is puzzling even for media experts at times to detect the veracity.
Users regard the news as a no-brainer to balance truth with popularity and hence, causing mayhem. It is undeniable that gee-whiz news does not take long to become viral and that people are driven towards click bait posts. Social media users are supposedly living in a fool’s paradise where they are unknown about the potential pitfall. They are prone to comprehend that when something is immensely popular on the platform and the views, shares are amplified to a whopping extent, the odds of that particular news to be seen as trustworthy is massive. It would be deemed as unreasonable to fully assume that anything going viral indicates that there is no way the information can be fallacious.
Moving from risk to remedy
Ujjwal Acharya, a media researcher at Centre for Media Research-Nepal, says, “When people can question any information they get and have a critical eye, only then, they can be safe from fake news.”
Apart from labeling the news as accurate and free from flaws, we must be aware of the fact that there are people in the world relentlessly chasing for the sake of internet fame and seek attention since they prefer to be visible through social media. We certainly do not wish to be the puppets being bamboozled by the hands of people disseminating all the gimmicks.
Especially when it comes to celebrity death hoaxes or any sensational news circulating on social media, the users at times can do nothing but be a passive spectator because such instances ignite emotional responses and rather than being reflective, the action turns out to be more reactive. While people come across any news via social media, it is crucial for them to be skeptical and not trust anything blindly. They should be accustomed to the act of fact-checking, credibility and verification of news stories by going through multiple news sources and on top of all, being selective of how they regard any source to be a reliable one.
It might seem impossible to say for sure that fake news shall be nullified as social bots are surging as well. Twitter has been doing its best to track down all the bot accounts and suspend them while Facebook has launched AI Notifier and revealed useful tips to examine whether or not the news story is a fake one. Regardless of the fake accounts, photoshopped images, synthesised audio/video shared on social media platform, we can be optimistic about the minimisation of widespread of false news provided that the users are critical of what they read and that bidding goodbyes to the lies is no longer a wishful thinking.
A text by Saroini Tamrakar