Good bye and good riddance to the Year of Fake News
By Geni Dee
It is getting extremely difficult to distinguish between what is really happening in the world and the sensationalist nonsense called Fake News that is shared across social media.
If you don’t know what I am referring to, you might have been living under a rock this past year. Fake news has become so common that it was even added to the Collins Dictionary as one of the Words of the Year for 2017.
The term means “often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”, suggesting that it is half-truths and propaganda deliberately spread to deceive the reader.
This can cause a lot of damage to a person or organisation as many people don’t bother to find out if what they are reading, is in fact true. The stories are usually very titillating and scandalous and therefore spread like wildfire across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
According to Hillary Clinton’s camp, the Russians set out to destroy her electoral campaign by spreading outright lies about her on Facebook. There were fake news articles stating that she ran a paedophilia ring and that she had a brain tumour. Now, I am not saying Hillary is a Saint, but all indicators were pointing to her becoming the next US president. The impact of fake news in her case was quite severe and cost her the election. If you think I sound like some conspiracy theorist, just Google it.
A little closer to home, we also saw it with #BlackMonday, where people posted about some farmers waving the old South African flag. And while the truth, in the meantime, has been revealed that those photos originated from a completely different event from some years back, the damage was done and the whole movement was discredited.
I can understand why people get so confused, because Donald Trump uses the term fake news to discredit any report he does not agree with, even if the facts are legitimate. So it is no wonder that no one knows what to believe anymore and that people have lost faith in news reporting in general.
Facebook, realising that fake news has the ability to swing electoral campaigns, has implemented some new features, which they say will make people more aware not to share news stories from unreliable sources. Whether this will have any effect, we will have to wait and see, but I am not optimistic.
My problem with fake news is not only that it is spreading lies, but that people will literally believe anything they read and then share it with the world. We all carry smartphones with infinite information available at our fingertips, so some fact checking would take about 5 seconds.
It seems like everyone wants to believe the absolute worst in other people. I have highly educated friends, who share copious amounts of false articles on Facebook. This irritates me immensely as their opinion holds weight with others. So if they share misinformation, other will take it at face value.
I have only two requests on my Christmas Wish list this year. Firstly, that people check the validity of information before carelessly distributing the drivel. Because the results can be devastating. And secondly, that we all try to hold onto some belief that mankind is inherently good so that we don’t always just believe the worst in people.
The onus lies with each person to make sure that they don’t contribute to the chaos of spreading sensationalist lies across social media.
Come on people, it’s the festive season. How about we give our fellow man the benefit of the doubt and don’t participate in further spreading dishonesty. That will already go some way in promoting peace on earth.
May you all have a blessed and safe holiday season. Merry Christmas.