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May 21, 2018

The evils of fake news

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His Holiness, Pope Francis, in his message for this year’s World Communications Day, taking place today, has drawn attention to the evils of fake news and called for shared commitment to stemming its spread.

Titled: “The truth will set you free (Jn 8: 32) Fake news and journalism for peace,” the Holy Father maintained that when we are faithful to God, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit for goodness.

Fake news has to do with false information based on nonexistent or distorted data, meant to deceive and manipulate the reader or target audience. It is a deceitful way of dealing with the truth as well as a dishonest way to pass or share information. Fake news can sway public thinking, serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions and serve economic interests. Such misleading and incorrect information are purposely peddled or created to mix up or hide the truth. It is rooted in the thirst for power, a desire to possess and enjoy. The effectiveness of false news is primarily its ability to resemble real news, to seem plausible and believable. With the rapid rise in the new media, such as: WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google, which often assumes zero accountability, the web is littered with fake news. By using these social networks, untrue stories spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage. Since they capture people’s attention by appealing to their social prejudices, fake news raise emotions, anxiety contempt, anger and frustration.

The effective use of the internet to create news platforms and the use of the social media as a vehicle to disseminate them has transformed news consumption to a new level. It requires a strong discerning mind to decipher the truth. This distortion is a huge disservice to communication.

The ability to incite hatred, division and violence shows how out of control the entire fake news situation has become. Unfortunately, millions of people are gullible enough to believe these extremely distorted information, most of which are based on speculations. Spreading of misinformation, inciting intolerance, insecurity and compelling people to become violent attract attention because the bigger the controversy, the more attention gained and the more money it attracts. While, the perpetrators of fake information create a serious problem, those who believe them also pose another challenge borne mostly out of ignorance. Disinformation thrives on the absence of other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue instead. It risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas, thus discrediting others and presenting them as enemies to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflicts. It is ironical that sometimes, even government issues fake news just to cover up its deficiencies. One example is the government claiming it has completed projects which it has actually not or even started just to make political gains.

We therefore call on government to learn to carry the people along, provide accurate information on issues of public interest, so that the people would not depend on speculations or half truths. Key functionaries should endeavor to respect the Freedom of Information Act that gives the citizen right to know what government is doing. Speculation is dangerous and unless we learn to separate the truth from fiction, we would continue to lag behind in national development. Every Nigerian should take active part in unmasking falsehoods rather than unwillingly contributing to the spread of disinformation. One of these ways can be as simply as forwarding fake news on whatsApp.



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