We hear the term “fake news” a lot now.
The concept has always been around, but it only entered popular public consciousness over the past few years ever since Donald Trump became the president of the United States.
As ironic as it is, fake news is a real problem.
What is Fake News?
The Internet defines fake news as deliberate misinformation, pseudo-news or hoaxes that are spread with the intention of misleading people. Fake news has no basis in fact, but is usually presented in a way that makes it seem factually accurate.
And take note that fake news is different from satire or parody, blatantly skewed content meant only to amuse and criticise.
Fake news threatens trust, freedom and truth on both an individual and societal level.
Being Alert to Fake News
Since the 2016 US political elections, where fake news was used to spread untruths, people have become aware of its existence and wary of its influence.
If you want to know how fake news could have serious repercussions on society, you might want to check out the seventh season of US political thriller Homeland that’s available in Netflix: it shows the power of fake news and how people created them in an elaborate and resourceful manner.
Even in Asia, there has been much effort to alert the public to fake news and its damaging effects.
In particular, a Thai commercial (it’s rather old but is now more relevent) has attempted to do so in a creative, touching way.
Boss Da: “Where’s My Rent?!”
In this video, a lady boss, Boss Da, of a market, walks intimidatingly into the market to collect rent from the stall owners.
The slow-motion, dramatic way she walks with her ‘cronies’ into the market sets her up as an intimidating, probably bad boss.
She goes from stall to stall, rudely asking for rent.
Then, viewing the scene from her back, we see her yelling at a stall owner and throwing his weighing scale to the ground, breaking it.
Unfortunately, an onlooker managed to record this isolated scene on his phone and upload it to YouTube (though, of course, for the story to be convincing, it should be on Facebook, but anyways).
The hate starts flooding in:
“What did they do for you to be so violent?”
Netizens locate her market and more people make their way down to film her interactions with her vendors.
Without context, they keep interpreting her actions as violent and hateful.
For example, she is seen directing two men to carry a wounded man out of the market.
“Dragging him out to be beaten up is way too much! How can you take this?”
Netizens finally decide to punish her by boycotting her market, with the intention of bankrupting her.
At the end of the video, the camera films the story from another perspective and angle.
Her throwing the weighing scales to the ground? The vendor was persistently dishonest, tricking people into paying higher prices with his scales.
Carrying the injured man out of the market? She just wanted to bring him to a more open area where he could be taken care of better after he collapsed of what looks like a heatstroke.
Even as her market moves towards bankruptcy, Boss Da continues to take good care of her vendors.
The moral of the story?
Look at the whole picture. Not just one side of the story.
Also, fake news, although seemingly harmless at the beginning, can lead to very real, very damaging consequences. The vendors and Boss Da, who were just trying to make an honest living, lose their livelihoods to a video taken out of context.
This Thai commercial isn’t just touching. It speaks to the dangers of fake news and reflects real events happening all over the world that have been triggered by one-sided stories that twist the truth.
You Can Watch The Video Here:
Not Exactly Fake News
Now, if you’re familiar with fake news, you’ll know that unless this is a concentrated effort by a, say, competitor, it isn’t 100% deliberate fake news, but more of people mindlessly sharing a content that stirs emotions. After all, the person who first posted it has mistakenly think that Boss Da is evil due to what he sees.
In the context of deliberate fake news, some bad actors deliberately create fake news with an agenda to social engineer mindsets. That is more disturbing and have the worst impact since it’s not organic but engineered.
So the solution? Think before you share.
This is Happening Everywhere
Fake news has altered and caused very real events. Here are a few key examples over the past few years.
2016 US Presidential Elections
Researchers and experts have studied the effects of fake news on the 2016 Presidential Elections in-depth; many speculate that falsified information, especially on Twitter, substantially altered public opinion and undermined the integrity of the elections.
Just like how a character in Homeland described the fight against fake news without disclosing what it is: “Lies, amplifiers, f**king Twitter!”
August 2017: “Category 6” Hurricane
In August 2017, a hurricane hit the Americas. An American website, InfoWars, informed people that it was a Category 6 hurricane (Singaporeans read: this is extremely bad). This fact was shared with more than 750,000 people on Facebook, causing mass panic and fear.
Of course, it’s great to be warned about a hurricane that might hit your home soon.
The catch? Category 6 hurricanes don’t exist.
How to Spot Fake News
(If only fake news was that obvious.)
Fake news is so well integrated with genuine information that it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish what’s real from what’s not. And that’s its intention.
Fortunately, experts online have shared a few key ways we can stay vigilant to possible fake news.
Here are some of the ways:
- Question its source: is it a legitimate one? Who wrote/posted this information?
- Look for supporting evidence. Don’t just take the ‘primary source’ at face value.
- Place the story within the larger context, does any other information prove it false?
- Check the quality of the article: Reputable sources have high standards when it comes to language and proofreading.
- Ask the experts: Use verified fact-checking websites like FactCheck.org or check what the authorities/government are saying about this (although the 2016 US Presidential Elections has already proved that this doesn’t always work)
Stay vigilant, everyone!
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