In 2013, the World Economic Forum released a report dubbed Digital Wildfires in a Hyperconnected World, which, among many other things noted that “digital wildfires” or digital misinformation could wreak havoc in the society. This is what the world is experiencing today; fake news.
The report posited that the misuse of an open and easily accessible system and the greater danger of misguided attempts to prevent such outcomes would only serve to worsen the case.
The definition of fake news varies often depending on the context. In fact, many people nowadays use the term fake news to discredit a story. However, in this context, fake news is the deliberate spreading of false information.
Broadly, fake news is false or misleading information published as authentic news, generally understood to be deliberate, however possibly accidental.
The impact of fake news cannot be undermined. Its effect has far-reaching consequences than one can imagine. Its proliferation has been propagated by the increasing prominence put on online platforms in terms of shaping various agendas.
The Internet is a fast-evolving territory. It is uncharted and many people communicate and share information instantly and in a large capacity through social media platforms. News spread faster and at a scale larger than before.
The news industry, in the past few years, has been disrupted by technology. The transformation it is undergoing has opened a whole new world of unregulated platforms.
It somehow still difficult to have a radio or TV broadcast spreading fake news. This is because despite the vulnerability, the media industry is a regulated sector and broadcasters must adhere to rules and regulations governing a specific media house.
Unlike traditional media, social media remains unregulated because of its extensive nature and lack of control. It has gradually become the platform of choice for news, not just in Kenya but across the world. And the audience for fake news is rapidly growing due to the increased access to smartphones and low cost of the internet.
The idea that a blog post, a video, or a social media post may have seemed far-fetched a decade ago, but in today’s world, everything can cause a public panic.
While the quick spread of news through the online platforms is a joy for the media industry, it can also spell doom when deliberate or unintentionally misleading information is shared. Nowadays, the chances of this occurring are greater as opposed to decades ago when the traditional media first came to life.
Fake news is highly successful due to its massive level of social engagement. Whether the news is real or fake, the online society barely pays much attention to its credibility, they just want news in one form or another.
Ideally, human beings have a tendency of believing in bad way faster than the good, which is why fake news hold an adverse effect that could permanently ruin someone, a brand, or a company.
Social media has, in more than one occasion “killed” various individuals in Kenya. The platform has publicized and spread the misleading information causing an uproar among the netizens.
Notable incidences of social media death hoaxes include Ken Okoth, a Member of Parliament for Kibra, who, in early April 2019 took to Twitter to dispel claims that he was dead.
Hon. Okoth, who has been undergoing treatment for colorectal cancer, in a Twitter post responded to the fake news that was doing rounds on social media saying that he was still alive.
Mwai Kibaki also suffered the same fate, so did Mzee Mambo Mbotela whose “death” attracted calls for confirmation in and outside Kenya. They all wanted to know whether it was indeed true that the broadcaster was no more.
It is happening across the globe and many celebrities have been victims of death hoaxes.
Notably, the reputation that fake news create is almost irreparable and attempts to counter them usually worsens the situation.
Corporations have not been spared either. Unaitas, Bidco, ABC Bank, Equity Bank, Diamond Trust Bank have been targeted.
Sadly, no one sits for a minute to ponder or research whether something is factual or just a curated content aimed at tarnishing someone’s name.
Incidentally, the people responsible for some offending material might not even be aware of its misuse or misrepresentation by the online community; sometimes it results from an error in translation.
The spread of fake news also occurs when something that was misquoted or misunderstood is posted on social media. High profile individuals, brands, and ordinary citizens have fallen prey to fake news that attracts backlash from the notorious online community.
Misquoting or misunderstanding someone or something and posting it is one way in which fake news is spread. There have been incidences where even famous people have been backlashed for spreading false information either by posting or sharing it on social media.
Staying Ahead of Fake News
Regulating the social media is quite a hassle. Fortunately, the issue of fake news can be easily tackled. For one, it is highly imperative that any professional in today’s industry understand that to inspire, influence, or ensure that their audience believes in their story, they must watch what they say and how they are perceived online and in person.
The challenge goes to social media users as well. They can actively step towards spotting fake news by looking at the story headlines and contemplating on how fishy they are portrayed.
Any social media user should also ask themselves if the author has a history of writing fake or outrageous stories. If the writer’s credibility is suspect chances are that the story may also not be credible.
If the story does not quote credible sources or offer the parties mentioned a chance to give their side of the story there is a high probability that this is fake news.