Fake news was a phrase popularised by Donald Trump during his run for the US presidency in 2016. However, fake news is more than just a tool used to discredit or delegitimise the media for one's own agenda.
Fake news is quite real, as ironic as it may sound.
So, to start off, we really have to define what the term “Fake News” means. Is it just news that is fake, illegitimate and lacking in real evidence, or is it much more than that?
The most common case of fake news is where falsified or unsubstantiated information is snuck in alongside actual news. Sometimes, the reason behind this occurring is media bias. News and media outlets sometimes have political, corporate or even personal biases. However, for the sake of the general people, it is important to have unbiased news organisations, so as to ensure that all facts and information are portrayed accurately.
Enter Facebook. Facebook is like that racist, misogynistic and, quite frankly, good for nothing uncle we meet at every family gathering. He has an opinion about everything, and no filter. Yet, he is a constant presence at such gatherings. Why? Because Facebook is probably the only thing that keeps him connected with your dad and aunts, and is preventing them from shutting him out of their lives permanently.
All jokes aside, a lot of people hate Facebook. People are tired of the lack of true privacy, the terrible mobile apps and the overall absence of a conscience, just to name a few things. However, everyone has Facebook, and uses it regularly. Why? Well, just like that uncle, Facebook is just something you can't seem to quite shake off. Everyone has it, everyone uses it regularly. It has become so integrated with our lives, that getting rid of it would mean disconnecting ourselves from society to a certain extent.
And therein lies the problem. While we are often unfazed by stories of Facebook selling our data to corporations, one thing that is extremely concerning is how much “Fake News” is circulated on Facebook on a daily basis. You can literally scroll through your newsfeed right now, and you will find at least one article from some obscure website, with a million advertisements squeezed in, trying to misinform you about how showering with the lights on leads to tennis elbow.
It's a pretty bad example, but I can't be sure that this article is made up. And while a lot of the times it might be harmless, sometimes the results of such trashy articles being promoted online can be severe.
Look at the Rohingya crisis for example. Pre-existing Rohingya hate groups circulated falsified news alleging that they had engaged in violent hate crimes against Myanmar locals. The medium they used to put forth such fake articles and videos was Facebook.
The result of this was that the public opinion of the Rohingyas became so unfavourable that most people saw them as a threat to the locals of Myanmar, and it was genuinely believed that the intentions of the Rohingyas was to take over the country for themselves.
In a country like Myanmar where Facebook is used by almost every smart phone user, the outcome has been something we've all been seeing, taking place in our own backyard.
Here, we are finally introduced to the “Cult of Outrage” in our narrative. While, in some part, we are all to blame for allowing such atrocities to take place right under all of our noses; the party responsible for aggravating the situation further is one we can refer to as the “Cult of Outrage”.
The “Cult of Outrage”, named quite appropriately, are the large masses of people who go absolutely insane at even the smallest of things. It's the same group that makes rants titled “New Year's resolutions for white guys” and then proceeds to excommunicate Kanye West for meeting with Donald Trump. They are the worst types of online social justice warriors, who seem to have misinterpreted the definition of social justice altogether.
These people are outraged by anything and everything, and for them, social media is like a mine field. Show them one fake article about how some Western country is the reason behind everything that's wrong in this region today, and they will take to the streets. Not literally though, they'll speak out on Facebook about taking to the streets, and forget about it within a few days.
So what's so wrong about that, you'll say. Everyone has the right to get angry at whatever they want, no harm done.
Well, the problem begins when these same people start sharing such deceptive articles on their timelines. Ten of their friends, who are also prone to fits of outrage, pick it up and share it; and so on and so forth. The overall result is, at the end of the day, is that the people are circulating the news, rather than the company known as Facebook. Sure, Facebook's inability to detect hate speech is alarming, but that does not change the fact that WE are the human element spreading “Fake News' like the flu.
As Alan Moore once wrote, “Truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”
If you're left with a sinking feeling in your stomach after reading this, and are feeling hopeless, I understand. It seems futile. Combating the system seems difficult, but there certain steps that one can take to prevent it from being abused by others.
First and foremost, only read and believe news from reputed news outlets. For those of you looking for local news, I would suggest only reading news directly off physical newspapers from reputed outlets, or from the official websites of those newspapers.
Additionally, always make sure to check sources for articles that you come across online from random websites. For international news, also trust reputed organisations, or cross check different outlets if you ever come across something that just doesn't seem right. (Link for further websites will be provided below.)
And if you do have a member of the “Cult of Outrage” on your friend list, do call them out when they share articles containing falsified information. Because without the legitimacy behind the news we consume, the world becomes a much grimmer place.
For verified news: