08 Fake News – Jeopardy of our Times - Fr Nigel Barrett

posted Nov 14, 2018, 8:19 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Nov 14, 2018, 8:19 AM ]
"Recent shifts in the media ecosystem raise new concerns about the vulnerability of democratic societies to fake news and the public's limited ability to contain it." (Combating Fake News: Agenda for Research & Action, Harvard Kennedy School)

The above statement raises fears, and rightly so. Because fake news, as a form of both mis- and dis-information, benefits from the fast pace that information travels today, via social media that is available to all, irrespective of economic or educational background. This means that those who are unable to distinguish fact from fiction, or have the ability to counteract it, are usually the first receivers and sharers! Fake new proliferates faster than it is generated, and because of this 'abundance' is trusted sufficiently to be forwarded even further, making it difficult to contain or neutralise in real time.

This fake news can influence how people make decisions which could be detrimental to the person and society. Bad decisions result in consequences that, in turn, lead to mistrust. And mistrust leads to a misinformed, disintegrated society with no stable guidelines to understand the world and react to situations that affect it.

In the course of this article, we will try to define Fake News, and seek ways by which we can, at least, spot fake news.

The Rise of Fake News

Fake news is not new. However, it has become a hot topic. Traditionally, we obtained our news from trusted sources, journalists and media outlets that are required to follow strict codes of practice. There were checks and balances in place, and editors acted as gatekeepers of information. Now, the internet has enabled a whole new way to publish, share and consume information and news with very little regulation or editorial standards.

Most people – the general public – now source their news from social media sites and networks, and often it can be difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works has also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoax stories. But most of all, the contributing factor is availability: when one can access information by the press of a button on a smartphone, why take the trouble of looking further?