Information is Key; it remains a vital fabric in our social ecosystem. Misinformation, on the other hand, poses a great threat; especially in a world where the media and our access to smart devices further amplify the impact of information, or misinformation, at the same speed.
Such is the power we now wield just by owning an internet connected mobile device and access to various social media apps. Do we show enough responsibility for wielding such power? Are we aware, historically, what measure of divisiveness, wars, and casualties fake news and misinformation have caused in our world? We must understand the threats and show a level of intolerance in the spread of fake news.
Beyond US President Trump’s constant tirade about fake news and his continuous enmity with the media, conversations about fake news generally hit a high during the 2016 US General Elections. Coincidentally, Donald Trump happens to be a regular culprit in the spread of unverified and wrong information during his Presidential campaign. This has continued even as president of the United States.
In Nigeria, there have been more cases of misinformation than the spread of fake news (Yes, these two are different). It is particularly worrying because intentionally misinforming the public has a worse impact than the spread of fake news.
Most times, the lifespan of a piece of fake news is cut short or debunked on the social web before it goes too far. However, the impression and impact misinformation has on an average social media user lingers on for a longer period of time until the individual is able to “unlearn” and internalize the true facts.
Different ecosystems across the world are dealing with the scourge of fake news in different ways. Therefore, attention is directed to different players within the media space. In the United State, legacy media brands such as NBC, CNN, FOX News, as well as renowned journalists continually come under fire for publishing debatable contents and encouraging bias in the media. In Nigeria on the other hand, bloggers and social media users are being held accountable for encouraging and spreading fake contents via their platforms.
Most of these allegations come in the form of reputation damage and publications against the institutions of government, some of which has led to a series of arrests by the government and security institutions such as the EFCC. Several individuals and groups have questioned some of these arrests. The fact remains that such arrests, though not the best option, is necessary for national security. Yes, misinformation and the spread of fake news is a threat to not just the citizens, but also to national security. Personally, I believe that our freedom of speech can be used to positively drive lots of causes without necessarily being toxic or divisive at will.
Misinformation and the spread of fake news are vices that belong to the “dark web”. Digital institutions such as Google and Facebook have continued to work on algorithms and systems robust enough to combat the publication and spread of such contents on (or via) their platforms in the form of “fact checker” systems. Despite efforts by these two digital media giants, it will be difficult to successfully police the web in this manner if, individually, we not caution ourselves.
It is true that there are individuals and platforms out there whose aim it is to misinform the public for their own interests. As concerned institutions continue to work against such motives, everyday web users must try not to further amplify their cause by sharing or giving life to such contents. Just like we get horrified when watch videos of consumer products being processed in an unhygienic environment for distribution, the spread of fake or unverified content could easily lead to the same toxic outcome.