“Urgent!!!pls pass this to any Nigerian friend on your contact list -Just got dis [sic] please, don’t buy or drink any bottled water called ‘DEW’. Customs said it was shipped into Nigeria from Tanzania where it has killed 180 people. It is said to contain a poisonous chemical. Please pass this on and save millions. If u don’t believe check google for ‘DEW bottled water’. Save lives as I just saved yours.”
Word for word, this was the message a Facebook friend pushed into my inbox. Of course, he is not alone in this; it has become commonplace on the lawn of the social media. Asked his source, the friend’s response was, you guessed it: Google!
No doubt, of the blessings of the 21st century technological advancement, Google stands out. When Google started, it had a mission in mind: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. By implication, it is Google’s job to make the information you seek accessible to you. It is then your job to discern what is useful from what isn’t.
However, this doesn’t rule out the fact that while Google – like the likes of Facebook and other social media channels – might have fulfilled their missions, they have handed us a more injurious consequence: spread of misinformation and disinformation, both termed fake news.
For the record, misinformation is peddling incorrect information – albeit out of ignorance – and a category to which the Facebook user earlier mentioned falls (and most users I must say). Disinformation, on the other hand, is spreading such incorrect information with full knowledge of its wrongness.
Regardless if either of the hydra-headed monsters crawl their way into your Facebook feeds, google search outcomes, or any lane on the internet; if shared without verification, the denting impact it has on you is far reaching. Fake news shatters hopes. It kills dreams. It zeroes creativity. It numbs one’s mind. Its peddlers, to borrow the words of Nigeria’s sole Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka, are “cowards and sick in the head”.
Sounds extreme, right, but really, it is that bad! Let’s take the example of an estimated 800,000 people who took their last sip of breathe in the space of 100 days because of a disinformation peddled by a Rwandan radio propaganda and a militia called Interahamwe. If you’ve ever doubted it, think about the men, women, children and families that have been lost in the hostility between the Fulanis and the Berom tribes in Jos (Plateau state) because of a rumour.
Three weeks is all that separates Nigerians from the 2019 polls. Election seasons are breeding grounds for misinformation. If we crave an election devoid of voters apathy and electorate induced violence, then we must nail the wrecked body of fake news to the wall of oblivion.
How can you do this? Well, whatsoever information pops up at your disposal at any time, all you need to do at first is view it with a little degree of scepticism. Don’t be too edgy to always hit the share button even if the call to action on the post is “save a life as I just saved yours”. After your scepticism, follow it up with a background check. Then check again. Check once more. If not properly verified and confirmed to be correct, then you have no business sharing.
So when next you have reasons to use the share button, ensure you have enough reasons to share, ensure you have the evidence to back the information you are pushing out. Because at the end of day, the evil of fake information doesn’t end at one person’s doorstep it visits every household, yours inclusive.