When Alison Buttigieg witnessed a cheetah kill in Kenya in September 2013, she clicked photographs capturing the slaughter. The photographs depict the cheetah mother teaching her cubs how to kill an impala (an antelope). The impala, petrified, stands still as the cats play with for a few minutes before devouring it.
The photographs were lauded and became viral on social media. However, a story was anonymously added to the photo series as they went viral. The story alleged that the impala had sacrificed herself for her fawns. The story alleged that the mother impala could have easily escaped but sacrificed herself so that her babies could escape the cheetahs. It also claimed that the photographer went into a depression on witnessing the scene of self-sacrifice and maternal love.
This story is false.
But that didn’t stop it from being shared by thousands on social media. People believed the story, praised the mother’s love and empathised with the photographer, Alison Buttigieg. Hundreds messaged Buttigieg, expressing condolences and hoping that she would recover from her “depression”.
A perturbed Alison took to Facebook to provide clarifications:
Though the intention of the people sharing this story was not wrong, it still caused distress to the photographer. While it might be ok to assume the impala sacrificed herself to protect her children, it is not acceptable to comment that the photographer is suffering from “depression” due to this incident. This was not verified in any way from the photographer. As we stress time and again, let us be responsible while sharing information.
Fake news can have real life consequences
Fake news consists of news stories designed to mislead readers into believing falsehoods. They are created to spread propaganda to defame an individual or organisation. Unlike news satire which is meant to entertain, fake news is meant to misinform.
Making up news stories to fool or entertain the public is not a new trend. There are hundreds of fake news websites out there, many of which deliberately imitate credible newspapers in format and design, and trend misinformation. The hoax published by such websites gets social media attention and is then picked up by other sites. A chain reaction takes place and the hoax is published and proliferated everywhere.
This ultimately leads to the inability to verify the authenticity of the published reports. The potential to cause damage becomes more powerful over time. It reinforces people’s beliefs and falsely confirms their prejudices.
With the rising popularity of social media news, fake news creators are becomingly increasingly successful at creating viral stories.
Awareness regarding the harmful effects of fake news was ignited only recently. There have been several reports about Russian troll farms spreading fake news stories to influence the 2016 US Presidential election. There are apprehensions about the effect fake news sites can have on the upcoming elections in Germany and France.
It can have serious political consequences. Many politicians around the world have shared fake news stories, massively contributing to public misinformation. Recently, a fake story prompted the Defence Minister of Pakistan to threaten Israel with nuclear attack.
Fake news in India
Fake Story is exploding in India, a country which has over 50 million accounts on Whatsapp and nearly 200 million users on Facebook.
Following PM Modi’s note demonetization on 8 November 2016, false claims of microchips and GPS tracking systems in the new Rs 2000 notes were shared far and wide and even made their way into mainstream media.
Claims that the proposed Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial in Mumbai will have solar panels and will help prevent another 26/11 from happening were believed by thousands and used as arguments to support the construction of the memorial.
Then there are the countless examples of messages stating that UNESCO has declared our national anthem as the best in the world or our Prime Minister to be the best in the world.
Such messages are funny for those of us who are well-informed, but the problem is that they are dangerous because many people believe these fake news stories.
Fake news becomes an ever bigger problem when the text is inflammatory in nature. On 5 September 2016, the Mumbai Police filed an FIR after an inflammatory fake story regarding a clash between two communities spread rapidly on social media.
Earlier this year, a doctored video regarding the JNU controversy made rounds on social media and was even picked up by certain mainstream outlets, spreading lies and inflaming passions.
Fake news has real-life consequences.
The Logical Indian take
Fake news is everywhere: created by propagandists and shared by susceptible people. It has diluted our national conversation. In the digital age, every piece of information we read/watch needs to be cross-checked.
It can be either satirical or manipulative in nature. There are many outlets that write satirical news pieces with the sole purpose to entertain readers. Then, there are those whose sole purpose is to manipulate the readers.
Fake news is dangerous to democracy. If information is corrupted, the national debate is diluted and democracy is weakened. The viral nature of fake news has established a culture of lies and misinformation which continues to grow unchecked.
We have a responsibility to verify everything that we share. Let us aim to end the propagation of misleading information.
We request to community members if they come across Fake News on Social Media/WhatsApp, please email us at [email protected] with the screenshot of such messages/posts.
Also Read: “Fake News” Shared On Social Media Affects The Whole World