Many of the people believe in fake news, knowingly or unknowingly. People share fake news on social media every day! Let that be the news of an embedded microchip in 2000 rupees note or the world will end on December 21st, 2012. We all have fallen for fake news many times.
A year-old study by researchers at MIT states that the fake news is 70 % more likely to be retweeted than a true story. Moreover, if it takes 3 hours for a true story to reach 1500 people, only half an hour is sufficient for fake news to get the same number of people.
Fake news impacts the common man’s lives in many ways.
For example, during the months of April-2020, there were thousands of fake photos and videos circulated on social media, claiming that the Muslims are spreading coronavirus. For instance, one of the video clips of some Muslim youth licking the plates and spoons. The message claimed that men from the Dawoodi Bohra community are doing it to spread coronavirus. Later, the Muslims were targeted all over the country. The situation was so worse that the minority commission had to inform the police to safeguard the Muslims entering Delhi’s residential areas.
One such misinformation was about the coronavirus being spread by eating meat. Again, people shared many social media posts and youtube videos, which affected the meat industry, where both Muslims and non-Muslims work. The loss was about 130 billion rupees.
So, yes! The problem of fake news is huge! But why do we get trapped into this? The question is, are there strong reasons because of which people tend to believe in fake news? And the answer is yes!
The following are the top 5 reasons why people get easily trapped in fake news in recent years.
#1. People watch a lot of fake-news on mainstream mediaEmbed from Getty Images
Just when the world was getting used to the terms of COVID-19 / coronavirus, the WHO coined the term ‘infodemic.’
It is not just the users like us on social media, but the mainstream media channels share a lot of misleading information. Some of the fake-news shared by Indian mainstream media are the following:
Saudi cleric issues fatwa allowing men to eat their wives if hungry?
Many top mainstream media houses, including India Today, Mirror, and Scoop-Whoop, shared this piece. But this was a fake-news. You can read the detailed report on alt news.
Caliphate puts a price on your faith Conversion rate card accessed
Times now ran a full prime time show on this. Further, many print media houses, including Saamana, published this in 2010( Alt news).
President Kovind gains 3 million NEW followers in an hour
President Kovind gains 3 million NEW followers in an hour? Get real, Indian mediahttps://t.co/Gux7pPFRwA— Alt News (@AltNews) July 25, 2017
This news was shared by many mainstream media channels ( nearly all of them), Republic TV, Times of India, Zee News, Financial Express, and Economic Times. All of these channels shared a fake-news without even checking the facts. The twitter account is digitally handed over from the previous president to the current president. So when President Kovind inherited the @RashtrapatiBhvn Twitter account, he also inherited all its followers.
Instead of focusing on critical issues like healthcare, poverty and education, economy, and unemployment, they concentrate on masala-news and then a lot of fake news. According to a research article, over 95 % of the debates on mainstream media news channels between 2017 to 2019 were attacking the opposition, minorities, especially Muslims, Pakistan, Hindu vs. Muslims, Template vs. Mosque, and most, if not all, were either biased, slanted and misrepresented the data and the facts.
Thus, a continuous bombardment of fake news from mainstream media through news channels, youtube, and social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. is one of the main reasons for people to believe in fake news easily.
# 2 We believe in news if we feel it correct (let it be fake-news)Embed from Getty Images
To understand this, let us see some of the fake news in which a lot of people believed!
‘Jana Gana Mana (India’s National Anthem) is declared as the world’s best national anthem by UNESCO’
Or, you must have seen a ‘Fake Guinness world record certificate’ saying ‘Kannada is the world’s oldest living language (nearly 2500 years old) on the planet’.
Such fake-news are the ones in which people start believing immediately. Such a phenomenon is called ‘confirmation bias.’ ‘Confirmation bias is the best friend of fake news.’
When we see the news that confirms our beliefs (not necessarily based on the facts), we feel that that news would be accurate. For instance, since the ‘Kannada’ language has a great historical background, people think that maybe the above news would be correct. And when we hear the news like the ‘greatness of our national anthem,’ we immediately believe the fake-news because we feel full of power.
You will be amazed to know that the ‘confirmation-bias‘ is such a robust phenomenon that many big companies use these in their advertisement to attract people.
#3. Lack of digital media literacy in people promotes fake newsEmbed from Getty Images
Recently, India has seen a dramatic increase in the number of internet users. Currently, it has more than 350 million active internet users. The country stands 2nd in the world in terms of internet users (#1 China and #3, the USA). Now, an average Indian user consumes 12 GB of the internet in a month and is expected to double every five years (i.e., nearly 25 GB by 2025).
While the big technology firms like Google, Facebook have developed various programs to fight the fake-news with their technical programs, digital-media literacy is more ‘ social program than technical‘.
According to a researcher at the London School of Economics, the following are the minimum possible steps required to check if we are reading/sharing or believing in fake news or not :
#1. Is the URL reliable? For instance, does the COVID-19 information we read is from authentic sources ?
#2. Is the content well written? ( e.g. Language / Grammar etc.)
#3. Do we know enough about the topic? If not, we should ask and rely more knowledgeable than us.
#4. Is the news we also read present on reputed outlets?
$5. If the doubtful news is reported as fake-news by fact-checking websites already?
#6. Use of Google reverse image search function to see the origin of doubtful photos etc.
#4. SEO can promote fake newsEmbed from Getty Images
Yes, SEO can indeed help to promote false news (knowingly or even unknowingly), and then a lot of people may believe in fake news.
For those who do not know what SEO is: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a process/tool used by websites so that their pages will be seen in the top results when you search for something. For example, If you search for ‘how to look good ?’, the google top results may show you some sites, that means their SEO outrank all of their competitors. Please read more on: link. SEO is not a big deal nowadays. And there are tonnes of articles to improve SEO.
Now let us say that a fake news checking site (such as altnews.com) shares certain news to convey fake news. They might end up sharing fabricated news links (called backlinks). It may be possible that due to these backlinks, a fake-news might come in the top shown results in google search engine. An excellent example of this is shared here. However, no doubt, the search engine giant is already working on it.
#5. Fake news are targetted and very specificEmbed from Getty Images
What if the shared fake-news are made cleverly by specific people so that a common man cannot differentiate if it is fake or real? If we think that it is not-so-hard to identify fake news, then we are wrong.
According to an article on IndiaSpend, Sometimes fake news is spread by a powerful political intention. The stories are very much low on facts and high on emotions that people tend to share (not to share the news but also information with the emotions).
On the other hand, the reason might be purely economic. People monetize their content on youtube. The more people click it, the more money they will get.
Finally, all we can say is that, people should be very, very cautious against the spread of fake news. Various trusted websites try to debunk the fake-news on social-media such as Altnews.com, factchecker.in, www.snopes.com, etc. As mentioned above, technology giants such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. are also collaborating to fight fake news.
Recent news headlines of India’s top brands not to advertise on the channels spreading harmful content are an appreciable initiative. Krishnarao Buddha, from Parle Products, recently urged all the leading advertisers to come together and ban the news genre until they are forced to bring sanity and ethics in the news back (Link). Hopefully, this should not be another hoax.
Let us hope for the best!