Fake news is deliberate disinformation and diffusion of lies. It is aimed at influencing public opinion to favour its masterminds. Once digested, a fake news permeates the brains, stultifies reasoning and incites a belief in its victims that truth is false.
Fake news imposes on its victim such effect as that gotten from the use of hard drugs. Fake news is potent, lethal, and capable of leading society to ruin. It is a trigger for hate, disharmony and violence. It is a weapon that possesses the capacity to inflict on society such horror as ballistic missiles would.
Despite having high literacy rates and stable political systems, the advanced world, particularly the US, are struggling to subdue the horror of fake news. In Africa, notably Nigeria, it has become a jailer, massing into its gaol hundreds of educated and uneducated citizens. The attraction of some Nigerians to fake news is such that when met with a discernibly doubtful information, they prefer the lie.
Let’s ponder on this: Not long ago, a citizen and his collaborators had circulated a news that the occupier of Aso Villa was a doppelganger, whose other lived in Sudan. It was a piece of news that was clearly doubtful on the surface, still not a few Nigerians gobbled up the gibberish.
Again, I came across a screenshot on Facebook. It was a screenshot of a news purported to have been published by the Vanguard Newspaper in October 11, 2010. It says the leader of a large Pentecostal church, possibly the largest in the country, had planned a one-million-man march over growing insecurity at the time.
Reading the first sentence, I instantly knew it was fake because the writer claimed the church had begun “COLLECTING SIGNATURES” of its members across the country for the said protest. Seeing this, I quickly did a simple check, which everyone who carries a smart phone can do, by Googling Vanguard News/October 11 2010.
The search results revealed the newspaper’s news items for that day, and the fake news was conspicuously missing from the list.
The intentions of the masterminds, undoubtedly, is to deride the church leader and stoke disharmony.
In appreciating the rise of fake news, it is important to note the underlying factors watering its growth in Nigeria. The phenomenon of fake news in Nigeria has multiple dimensions, viz directionless citizen journalism, media ethics and finance challenge, poverty, illiteracy, ethnicity, religion, and politics. This combination has contributed to a thriving fake news industry.
Evidently, fake news is a major drawdown on the usefulness of the internet, which has offered the former its biggest advantage. Despite its limitless advantages, the internet has intensified dissemination of fake news and uncensored contents.
The current trend propping disinformation in our society is the promotion of Citizen Journalism. It has enabled just anyone with data on his smartphone to post anything without regards for verification, rules, or decency. While a typical professional journalist considers double-checking doubtful
information, a citizen journalist, lacking training and circumspection, runs to publish same.
Although, some journalists are complicit in the spread of fake news, they remain the ignoble few.
Aside, the proliferation of blogs by many untrained journalists also impinges on professional media practice in the country. So powerful have “bloggers” become that they are feared even by government and corporate bodies, which reluctantly patronise them. As an illustration, the presence of knowing buyers of counterfeit products keeps the sellers of such wares in business. Such patronage is a justification for the continued existence and growth of bloggers, who have morphed into an unusual pressure group.
And, like barbers, pepper sellers and tailors, bloggers have an “association” too.
Undeniably, journalism, particularly print journalism, has suffered from the combined onslaughts of these media wannabes, resulting in low patronage, dwindling revenue and receding professionalism.
In fact, to fight fake news to the finish, struggling media organisations which sterling track records of service to the public need to be helped out of their financial challenges.
And, to achieve this, citizens and genuine investors who appreciate good journalism ought to step in to bail out the affected media organisations.
Though, the challenges facing the media spread across jurisdictions, Nigeria media has suffered crushing blows.
Even in foreign climes, media houses are battling daring attacks from emergency online publishers and the New Media effects.
Some foreign newspapers, hitherto offering free contents, have erected paywalls on their online sites. Such news sites are accessible only to subscribers. Yet, some others, like the Guardian UK, openly solicit donations from readers visiting their sites.
Conversely, most Nigeria newspapers are compelled to offer their online contents for free, while grappling with hefty staff salaries, ballooning running cost and declining sales.
Regardless of these challenges, media organisations must endeavour to train and re-train their staff on the dangers of fake news.
On its part, government must realise that fighting fake news requires more than threatening culprits with treason charge, or jail term. It rather needs to collaborate with media organisations and the Civil Society Organisations to begin mass sensitization on the ills of this unprofessional practice.
– Ademosu is a practising journalist