During the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, governments in several countries have imposed social distancing in order to curb the spread of the voracious virus. Because of our gregarious human nature, we have substituted our need for physical socialising with digital socialising. Invariably, misinformation related to the coronavirus and related topics has gone ‘frowardly’ mutinous and is spreading faster than the virus.
Searching for COVID-19 on the Google search engine yields 3 750 billion search results. I doubt if there is any other topic billing such highs. Liverpool search on Google only yields 529 million results. The problem is with such high search results, there is also the accompanying COVID-19 fake news.
The sage, King Solomon quipped, “The words of a whisperer (gossip) are like dainty morsels [to be greedily eaten]; They go down into the innermost chambers of the body [to be remembered and mused upon].” Such is fake news. It is like ”dainty morsels” which we greedily gobble and forward to others in a viral spiral.
Recently many memes (videos, pictures, or text broadcast over digital media) especially about coronavirus, its origin, its prevention, its cures, its causal relation to 5G technology, etc went viral. I received one of these memes and I became suspicious when the ”author” asked for donations at the end of it. I discovered that he and his cohorts were crowdfunding conmen on the wanted list in the USA. Their modus operandi is to find controversial and topical issues and masquarade as activists and seek monetary contribution to enhance the cause. So this lot was using the fight against 5G roll out blaming it for spreading coronavirus and fraudulently asking for money to further their cause. ”Froward” this is.
The word ”froward” is archaic English meaning ”perverse, obstinate, wilful, ungovernable”. This description is apropos in relation to fake news. It is not possible to outrightly eliminate fake news even by legislating against it. However, as an individual, one can excercise caution and discipline to mitigate the spread.
Why do individuals/organisations peddle fake news? What is their motive? Let me start by looking at a few definitions of ”fake news.”
“Fake news (aka junk news, pseudo-news, or hoax news) is written and published usually with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership.” https://en.wikipedia.org/.
Another definition of fake news is “Misleading information or outright lies presented as factual reporting. Created with the intent to deceive and confuse, making it difficult for people to know what is true and what is false.” https://www.yourdictionary.com/.
‘Clickbaiting’ is also used to entice a reader to an advertorial by using a sensational headline or fake story as bait. The motive here is that the advertiser drives traffic to the advertorial and monetises this traffic using the pay-per-click model.
So the baseline motive for fake news is to ”frowardly” mislead in order to damage, or to gain financially, or politically. The intent is to deceive and confuse. Even the truth delivered with a seditious motive becomes fake. Please note, the social media and the internet are not the problem, but the peddled fake content therein is the problem.
In an attempt to control my part in spreading fake news I have had to undertake a few measures of self-discipline.
There are various guidelines on the internet on how to spot fake news. Some of the guidelines I quote are from the BBC, www.bbc.com/. There are many other sites that give credible tips on how to spot fake news on the internet such as www.ifla.org/ and www.europol.europa.eu/.
The first of my self-disciplining tips is that I have had to institute social media distancing by exiting from any social media group that I find has lost its original purpose and is peddling fake and incendiary news. Some WhatsApp groups become uncontrollable with 99% of what is being posted not useful at all. My tip is, exit all incendiary groups. It is difficult I know, but do it anyway.
The second tip is, I try to discern the ”froward,” that is any memes that are suspicious and, therefore, most likely fake. These I try not to forward. If ever I do forward, I will include a caveat that this is likely to be a ”dainty morsel”. My advice is, when suspiciuous do not ”forward” the ”froward”.
I like humourous memes, so I am likely to forward humour without further qualification save the ”rolling on the floor laughing” emoji.
Thirdly, I try by all means to find out the authenticity of the author or source of the news. I have already given an example of a video meme which went viral, but on researching further, I found out that the author and his cohorts were wanted conmen. A popular way of passing fake as fact is to include an authentic soundbite from a credible or famous person and then surrounding it with false suppositions.
The fourth tip is, beware of your personal biases. Crafty deceivers pry upon credulous receivers using what is termed confirmation bias, which drives us to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs or ideas. We mostly forward articles and videos based on our confiirmation bias.
For instance fake news meant to damage a political party, a religious group or person, or an organisation, will be immediately believed by the biased opponents of that party, group or organisation.
So when I receive a ‘dainty morsel’ on someone or some organisation I do not like, I have to check my confirmation bias before believing and forwarding. Gullibility feeds on bias and vice versa. So watch out that you are not forwarding as truth your unsubstantiated confirmation biases which conform to your own beliefs.
Let me proffer a caveat by coining an oxymoron ‘neutral bias,’ to point out that ultimately most websites, reports, news etc have a taint of bias, even those that profess impartiality. Somebody, some culture, or some group somewhere pull the strings on media houses. We all seem to be guided by our own personal biases. I persornally admit that I am biased towards the impartial.
These days I question even what is passed as ‘peer reviewed’ material which tries to unpack and authenticate the esoteric and the indeterminate. We all tend to research, write and authenticate from a position of innate or learnt bias, be it science, religion, culture, legislation, education, race, tribe, gender, sports affiliation, etc.
However my fifth and final tip is, exercise calm and care as King Solomon retorts, “Much learning earns you much trouble. The more you know, the more you hurt.”
Eng Tororiro Isaac Chaza writes here in his personal capacity.