Over the past two decades social media has become one of the most powerful sources of information. It facilitates free and seamless inter and cross-border communication and enables information to travel fast and wide. It also builds and destroys individuals and institutions, and promotes or demotes merchandise in a way never seen before.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and others are now the new media. While in the past people had to wait hours, sometimes days, to know what was happening around them, things have now dramatically changed. Citizen journalists, armed with no more than a smartphone, are able to break news to millions of people around the world in real time and keep stories alive with pictures and videos.
This form of communication is a boon to users and consumers but is also a source of pain, anguish and disappointment for many.
Fake news has permeated social media so much so that a new cliché has been born: ‘don’t believe anything you read on the internet’.
Fiction disguised as news has saturated the social networks – distorting facts and spreading propaganda, innuendos and lies, sometimes with serious consequences in politics, government and business.
Producers of fake news engage in mischief and spin information to please, hurt or damage reputations, or simply just to drive traffic. Fake newsmakers “sex” their stories to attract likes and spur social discourse, and photo-shop images to legitimize their stories.
It is not surprising therefore that many people in the US believe fake news influenced the recently ended US elections. Blogging sites, websites and posts carried bogus information and anecdotes about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton that were misleading and plain false.
Impostors lied to voters that they could vote online; gave different voting days for Democrats and Republicans; claimed that Clinton was a murderer; and that the Pope had endorsed Trump, among a litany of many bogus posts. Equally preposterous was a post days after elections that Obama had signed an executive order to investigate the election results.
Social media is also known to regularly “kill” prominent people – from prominent individuals like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to Fidel Castro of Cuba; to celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga.
These hoaxes were spread through social media and shared by thousands of people. A finger was pointed largely at Facebook where most of the false news items appeared. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, however, denied that Facebook influenced the elections, and branded that idea “crazy.” He said it was “extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election.”
Currently, a number of social media organizations, including Facebook, are scratching their heads as how to deal with the fakers.
Since it is generally difficult to distinguish between genuine and fake news because of the way the latter is crafted and presented, consumers are left to use their own intuition.
So, good luck as you thumb your way through the various internet platforms.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.