Fake news on social media is a big issue that many people just take for granted. With the US election dominated by how fake news dominated online news especially on social media, the issue is now in the spotlight and been given the scrutiny it deserves.
In countries like Nigeria where most people get their news online from social forums, it is very easy to manipulate people with well crafted fake news written to look like the real deal.
It is very clear that people hardly bother to verify the news they read about on social forums like Facebook. Some don’t even bother reading beyond the headlines before reacting to the news ignorantly assuming the news is fact.
The creators of these news (and you have to believe there are people and websites whose reason for existing is to create fake news) know the mindset of the average online news reader. They know most of us believe what we read online without doing a little research to verify the news.
How big is the problem?
Though no research has being done to show the quantity of fake news around as against real news, it is clear that fake new easily trend more that real news.
It could also be argued that there is no clear consensus on what constitutes fake news. But for the sake of brevity, fake news would be news created to mislead people with outright lies or with lies mixed with a bit of the truth to make them look authentic.
For instance, during the campaign for the last elections in the US, a news report went viral very quickly that the Catholic Pope had endorsed the Republican party candidate, Donald Trump for president.
One can see how and why news like that would do a lot harm by misleading people.
In Nigeria too, during the last election, there were so many fake news by the two biggest parties claiming one thing or the other. It was a case of who had the biggest money to spend on these lies.
As of today, some of the case are still in court over libels with some media houses opting to settle out of court after admitting they carried fake news on their channels.
Does fake news on social forums affect public opinions?
A research done on US citizens six months ago showed that the percentage of adult who use Facebook is almost 70. A report in Nigeria published by DigitXplus recently, showed that a very large chunk of Nigerians spend their time on Facebook and other social forums.
That is a large audience that could easily be influenced by well-crafted fake news.
Take me for instance, I get almost all my news from Facebook as my Facebook News feed is linked to websites I like reading. I know it is the same for most people. And because of the way Facebook is structured, people share what they think is interesting with their friends, these friends share it with other friends, and before you know it, the ‘interesting’ news is been read all over the world.
By the time somebody flags it up as fake news, the harm had already been done. People have already formed their opinion and nothing would shift that view.
Whose problem is it?
Though Google and Facebook are the online news sources mostly implicated in the fake news issue, the problem affects many other social forums.
Thing is, the fact anybody can come online and post unverified news easily on social forums makes it very easy for fakes news to proliferate.
In Nigeria for instance, millions of people visit Nairaland.com for their news. Since the forum is based on what users post, the trending news daily are mostly fake news and stories.
By the nature of the comments, most people believe these stories.
Eradicating fake news?
The long and short of it is that fake stories would always be with us as long as there are social forums like Facebook and Google News.
News on social forums are not governed by any professional standards. So etiquettes are thrown out of the window. The bottom line is to get enough traffic to websites and rack up revenues from advertisers who are only concerned about the number of people who visit a website daily.
Let me just state clearly that the best solution is for people to investigate stories before forming an opinion about believing them or not.
For me, the rule of thumb is clear, if a particular news does not appear on reputable websites, then it is not worth sharing with anybody.
For Google, one of the methods they plan to use to address the issue of fake news is to blacklist these websites from Google Adsense program. Hoping that if their source of ad income is cut off, they might be forced to change their activities.
However this is just one measure that would work to a limited extend because there are alternatives to Adsense and other ways of getting direct adverts.
As for Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg finally owned up to the problem and is making a lot of noises about measures to be put in place to curb the issue.
But all these are just half way measures. The final solution is if people stop posting or sharing links to fake news. One way is to educate people on the value of basic internet research to verify news.
image credits: youtube.com; hoax-slayer.com; nbcnews.com; twitter.com