Fake or false news has been around a long time and has been used for propaganda and political gain for decades. However the advent of social media has allowed messages, especially those that arouse strong emotions to go viral.
As a parent do you know enough about fake news and are you aware that you or your children could be actors in spreading fake news, knowingly or unknowingly?
So what is fake news? Fake news is news or stories created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. So although we may not be party to creating fake news, we may inadvertently be helping spread it, and at some point (usually very quickly) it becomes so prevalent everyone starts to believe it’s true.
Fake news can be spread by bots (programs that pretend to be individuals who can reshare at much faster rates than real people), by companies for financial gain, or even extremists buy fake news ads. But fake news is also spread by individuals. As social media users, if we think others will find it interesting we tend to share it. The more sensational or unbelievable the information the more likely we are to share it. In fact, fake news and false rumors spread far quicker on social media, and people are far more likely to retweet false stories. Not only does fake news spread like wildfire but it also has a devastating effect on nations and individuals.
It was lies, fake news and propaganda that led to the several impacts all over the world. Fake news can also be specific for example an unofficial tweet about increasing petrol prices spread widely which lead people to run and drive their cars to the nearest petrol stations. Suddenly the streets were full of scared people going to gas stations, which caused traffic jam and blocked roads. This misleading message only caused unnecessary panic and affected the streets for hours.
These and other such fake stories go viral because social media platforms show the most viewed or clicked on pages as well as trending topics and hashtags, this means that the most shared are the most seen and therefore are more likely to be shared again. Facebook and Google put in new policies to stop spreading false news, but there is a contradiction, these companies generate revenues from clicks.
As we all share information online, one way or another, we have become journalists in our own right and must follow the same ethical principles that journalists are bound by ‘…truth and honesty while performing their message, and refrain from following methods that directly or indirectly challenge the dignity of people…’ Furthermore, passing on false information goes against Qatari and Islamic values:
“ O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful. (6)” ِAyah 6 - Al-Hujuraat - Holy Quran, Sahih Translation.
To be sure that we don’t unknowingly become part of the fake news problem we should follow simple principles of checking information before sharing especially if it doesn’t seem legitimate, seems too far-fetched or looks obscure or distorted.
We need to be conscious contributors of information to the net as our initial intentions might be totally innocent, but the viral effects of the internet can lead to far more devastating and unexpected effects.
It is also a matter of conscience. Would we want it on our conscience if someone died, for example, as a result of misinformation and we were amongst the hundreds or thousands who re-posted something that led to this?
It’s important to discuss such issues with children. In fact, they may know more about how to authenticate information but may not have considered the importance of checking information, and why they should think twice before reposting.