Fake News & How To Cut Through It
Fake news? What does it mean? How much of it do you see everyday? How to get rid of Fake News? This is what the article is about.
"Jama Masjid issues fatwa against Tanishq for showing Hindu-Muslim marriage in an ad"
"New Indian Currency Notes to have a GPS chip to detect black money"
"UNESCO declares Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Best Prime Minister in the World."
“Budweiser employee acknowledges having been pissing into beer tanks for 12 years.”
"Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President."
"FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apartment murder-suicide"
These kind of headlines often surface on our media platforms. What distinguishes them from the factually correct kind is not only their inherent falseness but also in that they trigger some raw emotions in us. They make us laugh, proud, angry, bitter, sad. Falling for the triggers, we quickly start despising something or someone. This initial disliking in us for that particular something/someone is only aggravated by the new piece of information.
On the other end of the spectrum, they are effective in augmenting reverence and liking for a particular something/someone. And what happens as a result is the quick spread of the information, which most of us do without even cross checking its authenticity.
Is the sole objective of the news makers just to incite in us such raw emotions? Or is it simply an innocent mistake on their part? Or are there some agendas, some underlying objectives in them? We'll see it in a bit.
First we need to be clear with "What Is Fake News"
"Fake news can be defined as new information that have no or little basis in facts, but are presented as factually correct, usually with the intent of deceiving people."
They are essentially made up stories. Rumours that float around many people. Propagandas that are intended to carry out their particular objectives. As there is information, misinformation exists too.
Claire Wardle of First Draft News identifies seven types of fake news, they are -
1. satire or parody ("no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool")
2. false connection ("when headlines, visuals or captions don't support the content")
3. misleading content ("misleading use of information to frame an issue or an individual")
4. false context ("when genuine content is shared with false contextual information")
5. impostor content ("when genuine sources are impersonated with false, made-up sources")
6. manipulated content ("when genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive", as with a "doctored" photo), and
7. fabricated content ("new content is 100% false, designed to deceive and do harm")
Fake news has been here since time immemorial. There have been instances throughout history of masses being incited by misinformation and of their actions taking place as a result of fake news. But as a result of the advancement of social media nowadays, fake news got a major boost. To manufacture fake news, all you need now is to own a website or an account on social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.
The thing with websites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter is that to reach more people, fake news is spread with the publicly viewable option, namely "posts" or "tweets". And with the use of appropriate hashtags one can reach their targeted audience even more effectively. Most users don't care about the accuracy of the news that surface in their feed and many add to their proliferation by sharing them.
Since it is shared publicly, it means that the organisations and conscious individuals who dedicate themselves to fact checking can also view it, therefore the popular fake news peddled by these units are usually soon hunted down. In social networking sites, the fake news item can then be reported and we can expect the site to take it down. But for that to be effective people need to heed the fact checkers' dissection.
When the platform of private messaging apps like Whatsapp, Telegram etc., comes into consideration however, the thing changes, now fake news is spread in the form of end-to-end encrypted messages. One share to a group of 50 people and there are potential 50 people who can share to their numerous contacts. The fact checkers cannot do anything here except spreading awareness about the falsity of that particular news.
Fake news, like true news come in different formats. In simple text consisting of a few lines, a proper illustration of events, a snippet with a picture, memes. Memes- this is a very bad source of news. Memes are mostly made by youngsters for entertainment, whose main ambition is reaching more people and having them as subscribers with whatever content they can produce.
One cannot imagine beforehand how detrimental a fake news can prove to be. An individual's integrity can be put to question, an organisation's image and reputation can be completely tarnished, markets can be moved, hatred and rage can run like wildfire, a community can be brought to frenzy.
There have been numerous incidents, where direct or at least a part of the cause is fake news; such incidents can be of companies possibly losing credentials (Fake news can cause 'irreversible damage' to companies — NBC News, How fake news can taint a brand’s image), of political candidates benefitting in their political agendas (Study suggests fake news might have won Donald Trump the 2016 election — Washington Post) , of violence (How WhatsApp Fuels Fake News and Violence in India — Wired ) , mob lynching (How misinformation on WhatsApp led to a mob killing in India — Washington Post ) and even people getting killed.
So, now we understand why we come across fake news so often.
A simple, innocent mistakes cannot account for such large a number and such massive impacts.
While some may just put out things like a misleading title, a clickbait picture to reach more people and earn some extra revenue, others actually deliberately create stories with the intention of harming an individual/organisation's reputation.
If one has to remain under the public eye, if he wants to stay relevant, he has to keep proving his audience that he is a good choice, that he is worth their attention. He or his team has to constantly keep trying to better his image. Even a simple smudge can be a detriment to his reputation. And so is the case with his competitors.
There are two ways of winning the vote of people. One, by showing that you are better than your rivals. Second, turning the process upside down, by showing how your competitor is worse than you. When every option on the table is bad, we are supposed to choose the one that is less bad, one that is at least less evil, or that which we are made to learn is less evil.
And so there's no reason why this won't take place in competition among companies and political groups. Hence such fields are rife with propagandas.
The power of confirmation bias is evident in the acceptance of news that are presented as true or factually correct. Suppose you belong to a community, be it a religion or a political group. Wouldn't you want to hear good things about it? The things that you didn't know before. And so some people exploit it. For whatever their agenda may be, either by interpreting things incorrectly or out of thin air produce things that weren't within their scope.
Now that we have seen How Dangerous Fake News Can Be, let us look if there can be some ways to cut through fake news and guide ourselves to correct and proper news.
1. Check the Source
Always remember to check the websites you're reading news on. You should check where the news is coming from. Generally the big, reputed news sources like The Hindu, The Indian Express print news which are factually correct and verified. However, you should be aware that there are many impostor websites. An impostor website is one with a Domain Name that looks like the Domain Name of a more established website.
For example "bbcnewshub.com", it is not related in any way to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
They are designed to look like the same but are not the same.
2. Go beyond the headlines
Some headlines do not represent the actual story. Headlines are optimized to sound interesting and quickly prompt the readers to click their site and keep them there for a while. If you don't read the whole text you may perhaps won't get the whole picture.
3. A simple Google search
If you come across an article like "UNESCO declares PM Modi best Prime Minister", just search the keywords on the Google search bar. Chances are that you will find out whether it is true or not in a second. Check whether it is reported as true or labelled as just another fake news like you'll see if you search the mentioned news.
4. Reverse image search
If you come across a photo standing up as an evidence of the news, just do a reverse image search. If it is already over the internet you'll get the links to the original article or sources that have verified the image.
You can read the instructions on How to do Reverse Image Search on Google here.
5. Check the author
The fake news sites usually don't mention the name of the author, they will keep it as 'Anonymous' or 'Confirmed source'. They even come up with fake names. Just search the author's name on Google and check if it's a genuine person with credible journalistic description.
6. Look for the supporting facts
The bogus stories although mention that for a particular thing studies have been done, that research is carried out, but they don't link us to them. How can we confirm then? Such researches and studies are bogus.
7. Look for other news websites
If you hear a particular news which seems suspicious, simply do a search and look if other big, reputed news sources have also report it. If they do, mostly the news is true.
(You can download the above infographic by clicking here)
Beyond these How To's, we need to develop critical thinking skills in ourselves. We need to be sure that the news we intend to share is correct. Because we can't predict what massive consequences may be generated with a single share in social media. It is important for us to remember that if we share fake news we, in a way, become complicit of the propagandists' agenda. We become connected in the long chain that causes harm against the targeted person, community or institution.
It is necessary for us to be able to find the truth ourselves, because if we don't someone else will do it for us. And chances are that that someone will not feed us the truth but their truth.
About the writer
Amritangshu Baruah is a recently graduated Philosophy student from Assam's well known Cotton University.
Amritangshu is interested in reading and knowing about how the universe with us in it came into being, what we are and where should we head towards. He also likes to play cricket and engage in outdoor activities.
This is the second article of the weekly Guest Blog Series of Blogger Assam. If you liked reading this article you can also check out Guest Blog Series Week #1 : Assam's Land Policy 2019: The Debate on Indigenous People
Note: The survey mentioned in the article was conducted by this website in direct contact with the respondents via email, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp etc, where a total of 111 people participated. The statistics of the survey used in this article is only for illustration purpose and is not supposed to be recreated or for commercial use.