Fake news has become a menace across the world, writes Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr in The Pucnh.
A few weeks ago, the BBC published a six-part report that shares multiple examples of how fake news, fueled through social media, has brought about the death and maiming of some Nigerians. This is also the case in India as well as in different parts of the world. The world is now at a crossroads. Yes, technology and all its other add-on such as social media are great but how do we collectively deal with this ugly challenge of fake news – it is indeed a challenge that we must confront collectively.
Mozilla, the organization behind the famous Firefox browser sent a mail to users a few days ago and here is an excerpt: ‘Trust in our media and social institutions is quickly eroding and threatening how our democracies function. At its heart is the growing problem of misinformation and disinformation, spreading in large part on the Internet. Social media platforms and policy makers are struggling to get their heads around the scope of the problem — or imagine solutions.’
On the issue of eroding trust in our media and social institutions, I see this happening almost on a daily basis on social media. In the last couple of days, I have seen a highly respected brand like Channels TV that has over the years shown commitment to the journalism and professionalism being attacked viciously. I am not stopping anyone from airing their opinions but the act and strategy of peddling false information that can’t be proven all in the name of expressing one’s freedom of speech is highly condemnable. I have said it previously on this column and I wish to reiterate that I work closely with the Chairman, Channels TV, Mr John Momoh, and I can say one thing for sure: he will not allow himself or the brand he has worked so hard and tirelessly to build be rubbished in anyway, by anyone. People may have certain views and opinions, but it will be unfair to employ underhand tactics, all in a bid to hurt the reputation of a patriot, who has worked extremely hard to build a credible media brand.
Well, the challenge of fake news is that anyone can become a victim. This includes a man or woman that, hitherto, had no blemish whatsoever. Last week, Facebook organized a two-day event that brought together stakeholders from civil society organizations, academia and social media influencers. The focus of the discussions was on information integrity, offline harm, conflict and hate speech prevention, as well as the importance of peace building, especially in light of the upcoming election. To prove how important that meeting was, more than 10 Facebook executives converged on Lagos from Menlo Park, Washington DC, London, Nairobi, etc., all to have a frank conversation plus provide as much information as possible on what the company is doing to stem this ugly tide.
My take is that all hands must be on deck in order to stem this ugly tide. So, in what would seem like unthinkable some years ago, WhatsApp, a few days ago, launched TV adverts in nine languages, namely English, Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati, Assamese, Marathi and Malayalam across India because of the increasing menace of fake news. This is because, according to a report by Bloomberg, the Indian government has warned WhatsApp that it will treat the messaging platform as abettor of rumour propagation and legal consequences will follow, if adequate checks are not put in place.
Let us take this a step further into a scarier realm. Have you ever heard of the term ‘deep fakes’? If no, here is what it means; it is simply an artificial intelligence-assisted image synthesis technique that can be used to convert or swap faces in a video content. The world was shocked when a public service announcement video was released with Obama’s voice but in reality it was a guy called Jordan Peele who was behind the computer. The deepfake technology has taken things to a whole new level. Imagine the supposedly nude photo or video of a superstar on the Internet, whereas, it was properly faked. Does this not take what you will regard as scandals to a whole new level?
The point that I am trying to make is for everyone to understand that in the days, months and years ahead, there will be all sorts of scandals peddled against popular, high net worth individuals and celebrities just to get at them, and technologies, such as deepfakes, will be employed. It is for you and me to be vigilant as we have no choice but to collectively fight fake news. This is because the table can turn easily and the hunter becomes the hunted.
One of the learning points for me attending the Facebook session is discovering 10 tips to spot fake news, which I will share below:
- Be skeptical of headlines
- Look closely at the URL
- Investigate the source
- Watch for unusual formatting
- Consider the photos
- Inspect the dates
- Check the evidence
- Look at other reports
- Is the story a joke?
- Some stories are intentionally false
I cannot say, for sure, how effective these tips would be or whether it suffices. However, I acknowledge the fact that Facebook is at least taking bold multiple steps to deal with this issue.
Finally, may I request millions of WhatsApp users to stop forwarding as received? Only forward what is verified, that you are certain of because that is one sure way to ensuring we collectively combat fake news designed to hurt other people, whether directly or indirectly.