Fake News era: The Use and Abuse of Social Media

Imagine that a broadcaster reaching over 1 billion people a day is making billions of pounds of profits every year, partly by distributing news coverage that includes numerous mistakes. Imagine, too, that, when the broadcaster is called to account, its first proposed solution to the problem is to send out a message to viewers entitled “tips for spotting false news”. The first of the 10 tips is: “Be sceptical of headlines”.

When the term “fake news” comes up, people usually think of social media posts with rather fantastic, implausible stories. While posts shared on social media is its most visible aspect, there is so much more to fake news than exaggerated article titles on social media feeds.

‘A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes’, so the saying goes. Never has this been more the case than in the current environment, where social media can spread an unverified story globally within seconds.

Fake news may seem new, but the platform used is the only new thing about it. Propaganda has been around for centuries, and the internet is only the latest means of communication to be abused to spread lies and misinformation. We know that mobile telephone technology has taken off across the globe with extraordinary speed, giving instant access to social media on the go.

With people now spending more time the social media sites as a way to get the latest news and information, their importance in spreading fake news cannot be underestimated.

However, there’s a difference between simply posting propaganda and actually turning it into something that the target audience consumes. The latest mainstream victim of social media fake news has been BBC and CNN with Kenya social media scene leading during the election period.

The speed and pace at which hoaxes, gossip and lies can be spread is an area of growing concern for brands that could see fake news seeping into the business world. What does this mean for society? For consumers, it points to the need for more scrutiny of sources. Consumers need to be more discerning about what media they consume, believe and share.

Businesses need to be hyper-vigilant and prepared for the risks inherent in this new landscape, and how to deal with them. And conversely, just as it is the conduit allowing false stories to spread, social media will be the new battleground for countering fake news and ensuring that the public remains well informed about important debates. For as the Chinese philosopher Confucius said: ‘The object of the superior man is truth’


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