Sunday, September 20

When fake news is more deadly than any virus

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EVERY single hour of every day it seems that we are either bombarded on our WhatsApp chat groups or on social media, on Facebook, Twitter, and WeChat, with many forwarded video-clips, messages, YouTube clips, and personally written notes of all sorts of messages.

If you are like me, I have a list of WhatsApp groups and I administer to a public, a personal, and a handful of specialist public forums on Facebook; you might receive starting from either late at night before you sleep or early in the morning (5am to 6am) all sorts of texts, video-clips, and what I term as cyber-spam, into your inbox on your smartphone, email inbox, and WhatsApp groups.

Personally and speaking only for myself, I find that as high as 90 per cent of my WhatsApp groups senders just automatically, without even properly reading or bothering to open whatever the messages were, re-forward whatever they have received during the night before, or even just that morning. In the groups, I seldom get more than 10 per cent personal messages to which I need to respond or reply.

I usually ignore the cyber-spam and do not even bother to open to read or watch whatever video-clips were received; they almost always end up in my trash-bin. Of course I know precisely which particular friends or senders these would come from. For the other more discerning friends and relatives, their messages would always be treated with care and attention, and be worthy of either a response or an acknowledgement. Unfortunately, these tend to be rare and very few do actually meet these criteria. I am sure that it is the same with you.

The thing that particularly annoys and bugs me is that sometimes it’s from friends and people whom you know are normally rather responsible citizens and serious folks whom you actually spend time with, or have some regard for their opinions and friendship.

What is it I wonder, about the cyberspace, about mass communication in general, about WhatsApp groups, and social media that can turn someone like that into a thoughtless and insensitive or even totally maniacal person who simply re-forwards or re-shares everything that he receives, without giving it a second thought as to their authenticity and validity?

Has the false perception of a lack of personal identity (they’d be so wrong as everyone knows who the senders are) on social media turned them into speed click-freaks, who simply click on every single message received without giving any further thought? Are they looking for some sort of self-validation, or fame, or acknowledgement that maybe with one lucky click one fine day, they’ll be thanked by all the recipients for having sent them the first text of a ‘breaking news’ item?

Who knows what could be in their minds?

The most dangerous weapon today, by my reckoning, is not a newly-discovered virus, like the Covid-19, or dengue, or ebola, or weapons of mass destruction. It is the immense danger posed by fake news and its repercussions.

Fake news come in all forms.

I consider fake news to be anything spread by or originating from someone with either pure ignorance on a subject or purposely with bad intention wanting to create a situation of chaos, anger, contempt, or confusion among his targeted audience.

Fake news encompasses everything you read, hear, listen, watch, and talk about – it can be a piece of political news, a personal scandal, some natural event of tragic proportions, or, as in recent weeks, news of the spread of Covid-19 as spread through mass media, social media, and word of mouth.

If you know exactly what to look for, you can train yourself to tell the truth from the fake – be it news, opinion, medical advice, or simply someone mouthing off.

If it’s shared on your WhatsApp groups, look out for the obvious sensational headings, proclamations, self-made or shared video-clips, or bits and pieces taken from other sources. Of course, the first step is to know who sent it to you in the first place. Then the actual source of the news.

If a message is shared and forwarded to you on a WhatsApp groups, first check who sent it. How well do you know the sender? Is he in the habit of say every morning at the same time sending you a whole stream of forwards from unknown sources without regard to subject matter or content, and it all comes in one long stream? Is he someone you know and trust, or just an acquaintance? What experience have you had with his past forwards and messages? Has he even ever interacted personally with you one-on-one?

The danger signs are easy to detect.

If the sender is in the habit of sending stuff not requested for and has no personal interaction with you either on the WhatsApp group or social media; he’s a serial spammer and guilty of simply being a ‘click addict’. Who knows for sure why he does that? Inferiority complex? Illusions of grandeur? Maybe he simply thinks he’s doing good by sharing everything he’s received? Most likely he’s lonely and craves people’s attention. But then again I am no student of psychology so I’ll just leave it at that.

The many dangers of fake news are so very obvious.

The receiver would then be confused, unsure and very much misinformed, especially if that fake news he received was supposed to give him advice – on the latest or current medical emergency situation or what he must do to address it. At its worst, fake news spreads vicious and untrue political propaganda and racist and sexist commentary, thoughts, and opinions from a one-sided point of view, with bad intentions to create chaos, strife, and disharmony among its receivers. If the recipients in turn either believe in it or simply just re-forward the fake news, the harm is doubled and quickly becomes viral, at which stage it’d be nigh impossible to do any damage control.

At the moment there is a lot of fake news going around on Covid-19. Please give it serious thought and think carefully before you decide to share and re-forward anything that you have read or received, be it on WhatsApp groups or on your social media. If in doubt, just don’t. Only if you are certain, and it’s verifiable, go ahead and click it on.

Pray to God that you did the right thing. Amen.

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