Our freedom has been challenged by the social media and the spread of fake news. I discuss why ‘fake news’ has recently become such a notorious term and what should we do to stop it from spreading. Read here.
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Where would we be without the internet and the world wide web?
Internet has helped us to achieve the age of information; the age of freedom and transparency and accessibility. It has simplified communication, exchange of information, knowledge and travel as well as nullifying distances and making the world a much smaller place. Internet is a reason for the increased equality; transparency and accountability in the modern day world.
Democracy and peace thrive through the truth and transparency. Fake news, lies and misinformation have the potential to unsettle the peaceful and modern way of life and destroy the freedom we are privileged to have. We understand that information and knowledge is freedom; it is choice; it is our right. So we cherish it. Let’s think of the countries and nations, past and present, that have suffered because of tyrannical regimes that retained power through censorship, suppression and control. The regimes that feared, and still fear, the freedom of speech; the freedom of thought and of choice…
Industrialisation, technology, the internet and the world wide web gave us that freedom that so many of us today enjoy. But looking at the current circus of USA and International politics, it seems that “we aren’t in an information age, we are in an entertainment age” (Tony Robbins). The recent U.S. presidential election highlighted the flaws and faults of the age of information. In such a vast and unregulated environment anything can become a fact; anything can become news and anyone can become an expert.
If there was a perfect time to use our critical thinking skills, it is now. There are no regulations and no restrictions on the internet (well, there are, but you know what I mean) and with 1-click-sharing options, fake news can spread like the Black Death. Why? There are almost too many bloggers; vloggers; blogs; websites; channels etc. of all types and styles with different agendas and different opinions. While in itself that is not a problem (freedom of speech and freedom of information and all that), the problem is that we don’t read the content and we can’t judge its accuracy. Headlines like “The Average Millenial’s Attention Span – Shorter Than Your Goldfish’s” and “Say it quick, say it well – the attention span of a modern internet consumer“ say enough – we want information that is quick, fast, readily available, hassle-free, instant… No external clicks and migrations to a different website – we want none of that…
The reason why we have the current panic about the ‘fake news’ is because we have seen what it can do, especially when we are too lazy to read the content and so eager to take each sensational (and false) headline at its face value. It seems not worth it to read the full articles or watch the full-length videos, especially when there is so much to read; to watch and to do – we are so busy… We glimpse through headlines and pause scrolling our feed for the 60 Second Docs, but anything longer than that is not worth it. It’s too much of a hassle to watch commercials or wait for the content. We don’t even click on videos for the sound, because (very conveniently) most of them have subtitles.
Clickbait, sensational headlines; out-of-context quotes; provocative posts are as attractive to us as the movement of the cape is annoying to the bull. Brexit referendum and the ongoing public debates; latest US presidential election; Trump presidency have all been marked by retractions, contradictions and hypocrisy – to the point of exhaustion and apathy. The bizarre and the outrageous has become the normal and we are like a drugged audience watching some absurd foreign movie in a locked cinema.
Internet is the cause of it all – as well as the solution. With legions of bad and fake news roaming the boundless horizons of the internet, it is time we turn back to the high-quality journalism for the daily dose of information. Already, people are turning away from Facebook for the news content with trust in Facebook continuously dropping. And for the better. It is a sign that we are realising that there is too much content; too much fake information and too much of everything false and wrong on the internet.
I think it’s time to go back to the well-known, trusted and ‘verified’ news sources and news organizations. The web can be a toxic place full of lies and misinformation and it is time we stop sharing and passing on distorted truths from dubious sources as something worthy of consumption. William Pollard said that “information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit”. And for a decade or two, we have been overburdened by too much of everything on the internet. The real scope of ‘fake news’ and misinformation, in general, that we have been exposed to is unknown, but the capacity for us to be mislead is huge.
Inevitably, print versions of magazines and newspapers continue to decline while digital sales and online readership are increasing. Technology and online reading is the way forward, so let us bear in mind the consequences of falling victim to lies and fiction clothed as truths. A lot of us are lucky to live in this world in this age and to protect our freedom, we need to use the critical thinking and critical analysis skills we were introduced to in schools. Fake news and lies can spread very quickly, but all it takes to stop that is for us to read it and challenge it – one story at a time.