Imagine waking up to the news that the president is dead! That would probably be shocking news because you are human and the president is an important figure in society regardless of the sentiment about his personality.
What would likely run through your mind at such a moment? What steps would you take to “fortify” yourself and, perhaps, your close associates? And most importantly, would you check to verify if the story about the president’s purported death is true or not?
When people find themselves in this situation, rather than make efforts to ascertain the veracity of the story, they often tend to believe the story and take unwanted actions almost immediately based on what they have read. That’s because emotions are high and the dodgy story probably aligns with their already established bias and reinforces existing viewpoints. The end result could be embarrassing, especially when the story is later found to be false.
This explains the spiral effect of fake news especially when it’s disseminated through social media where multiple people can have access to the same information at almost the same time.
Although one can say that fake news is not a new phenomenon, it has received much attention over time due to the popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, among others.
It has become a usual practice to see people disseminating certain information and another set of people dismissing such information as false.
Fake news is basically the presentation of false and misleading content for public consumption.
The process of influencing information has existed long before the dissemination of information adopted formal processes. Thereby establishing the fact that misinformation, disinformation and mal-information have no time-bound in history and in essence promoting fake news proliferation.
A renowned German professor of online communication at the University of Münster, Thorsten Quandt, said “social media encourages the dissemination of problematic news content and permits its circulation in a novel perplexing manner.”
Basically, the concern about the dissemination of “fake news” focuses on the universality of social media and the circulation of data and information that all social media platforms can afford.
Analysts say the harm of fake news is too intangible to be comprehended. According to them, peoples’ worries are tapered down when they feel the ‘fake news’ has no direct impact on them or close associates.
However, with the increase in the spate of insecurity in Nigeria, the country is likened to one sitting on a keg of gunpowder brought to the fore by fake news and its effect; which many say, would be felt by all.
Since 2017, there have been various degrees of fake news churned out for public consumption in Nigeria. The false content has a devastating effect on the nation’s security, including claims about underage voting in the north during the 2015 general elections. Several pictures and news stories were used to intensify farmer-herder conflicts, President Muhammadu Buhari’s supposed death in 2017, his purported marriage with a serving minister in 2019, among others.
Curtailing this ugly trend means everyone needs to rise to the challenge by verifying all information before sharing it with others or taking any decision based on the information.
There are multiple ways people can test the veracity of any information that comes their way either through social media or other means. And they are:
Consider the source
Who the source of the story is very important because at times it helps the reader partially know or rate the credibility of the story. Check the ‘About Us’ tab on websites or look up the source online and consider what other sites say about your source. Lack of author’s credit may sometimes indicate that the story needs verification.
Read beyond the Headline
Some headlines accompanying stories are misleading, because the headlines conflict with the body of the story. At times, the headlines are to attract readership and most times, readers are not patient enough to fully read the body of the story. So, whatever the headline is becomes the major and only story to them.
Check the date
Checking the date is very important, because like food, information can have an expiration date. And for some, just reading between the lines helps.
Trust your gut
Sometimes when we see a story for the first time, we get this feeling that something is just about wrong somewhere with the story. We doubt the facts written about either how or when the story took place. It is better to always trust how we feel about a story. If what you are reading seems too good to be true, or too weird, then, it probably is.
Speak to experts
In this case, rather than just mass disseminating the information, you can ask experts such as editors, journalists who you feel might have an idea of the credibility of the story. It goes a long way.
All this points out the fact that there is a need to increase media literacy for the public, especially the younger generation to enable them to be critical in assessing and responding to media messages. And there should be a renewed focus on the dangers posed by false messages, particularly as it concerns the spate of insecurity in the country.
Let’s also remember that the information churned out determines how the atmosphere is going to be and as such, we must take extra efforts in fact-checking information we receive.
The researcher produced this media literacy article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Crest FM to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.