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The 21st century is no doubt the century in which information technology rose to its peak. Social media has also grown in popularity with platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope, and others, which are taking the scene by storm. This is the century that has witnessed the growth of technology companies and the shrinking of gadgets. Television has taken a backburner with people opting for laptops, tablets, phablets (coined from phone and tablet), and most of all smartphones. Along with this comes more and more shrinking of the world due to the sharing and transmission of information. The world has become so intertwined that one does not have to be in China, for example, to know what is going on in China (or elsewhere). The flipside is the emergence of fake news. Speaking to the CNN’s Richard Quest, host of ‘Quest Means Business,’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos, KPMG CEO stated that “one of the risks in 2017 was cyber.”
With reference to the above statement, very recent events are proof of why the world should indeed be careful about cyber. The most prominent of these events has been the claim by US intelligence, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) that Russian hackers hacked the Democratic National Convention (DNC) emails and influenced the American election. Using Twitter as his platform, President Donald Trump dismissed the claims. When news later surfaced that the Russians had “an incriminating dossier” on the President, he again took to Twitter to state that the same was fake news. Other fake news that has done the rounds were the reports that Russia’s ambassador to Yemen, Vladimir Dedushkin, had been assassinated in the capital Sanaa. The reports were later denied by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Gambian President Adama Barrow has also been a victim of fake news, having had stories that he was dead all over the internet.
It is evident that wars are now, not only being triggered or fought on the ground, but also in online spaces. Fake news, such as the fake death of President Barrow, has the potential of leading to conflict or fueling a conflict that is already on the ground. Towards the end of 2016, Facebook came under fire for failing to reign in the fake news that was featured on the platform. Axel Springer SE’s Chief Executive Officer, Mathias Doepfner, in an interview with Bloomberg TV said that “Facebook should not take responsibility for content beyond removing illegal posts” and that news outlets, rather than Facebook should be responsible for the accuracy of their stories. Facebook unveiled a plan to deal with the problem, which would involve people flagging stories they felt would be fake and having fact checkers look into whether such news is fake. The problem with this is that it is somehow up to users to figure out which stories are fake and which ones are not – a responsibility that is too big to be left to consumers.
While it is true that news outlets should be responsible for the accuracy of their stories, it is also true that, sometimes, the source of fake stories is rogue websites that are not attributable to news agencies. Also, social media platforms are used to share information and they should, therefore, be made (more) responsible for the content in posts shared by their users. News outlets should also be careful while running their news tickers. On the 16th of January 2017, one of the biggest television stations in Kenya ran a ticker that ‘Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow dies after dog bite.’ The error in the byline was that the word ‘son’ was omitted, as it is actually President Barrow’s son that died, not him.
As consumers, a way to avoid fake news is by limiting our sources of news to major outlets, such as the main local news channels, like the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) in Kenya, international outlets like Al Jazeera, The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN), among others. It is also advisable to listen to a range of outlets so that one has a wider network from which they obtain information. Also, before sharing news on social media, especially news that has the potential of wreaking havoc, one should try to verify it through the aforementioned outlets.