The importance of understanding the war of fake news, and learning how to arm yourself against it.
Today’s political landscape is getting grayer and grayer, with the constant flow of new forces and tactics coming to the surface, one of the most harmful ones being fake news. Though fake news might not be a recent phenomenon, its current originality lies in its way of leveraging on how widespread new technologies and social media are. With the rise of social media and smart devices, everyone has become a news source. And where before news sources and journalism were all about verification and fact-checking before publishing, these checks and balances don’t exist for social media. And yet, many people continue to consume them as if they were as validated and checked.
In many cases, the public not only consumes fake news as real news, but also circulates it in a split of a second to all their networks, expanding the reach to wider audiences than ever. But what part of us is triggered by social media and compels us to share? Many of the recent psychology studies have focused on understanding the reasons behind why people share on social media, some results showed that it’s the need to be connected, the social reward they sense from the engagement, and how our brains are wired to share information impulsively. All those are the factors that the social media war wagers rely on when they devise their fake news.
An example of recent fake news that was circulated in the region (GCC) was an announcement that the KSA will be changing their weekend to Thursday and Friday from Friday and Saturday. The news was circulated and spread like fire within mere hours. Those who found that it was fake news after having spread it responded by saying “Oh, but it is harmless. Also, why would anyone say that anyway?” This mentality is exactly what the perpetrators of such fake news prey on. So let’s explain in what ways this was harmful:
- The first reaction to the news was inevitably an attack on KSA’s decision, and an acusation of being backward and immature. The negativity only arose from there and spread across the globe.
- KSA residents who believed it might have started following this false new calendar, missing out on work days and/or their studies.
- The falsely alleged change of weekend implied that KSA would end up sharing only three working days with the international market (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), which would delay communication and affect productivity; both of which can have a very negative impact on potential investments. This decline in international investments eventually affects the country’s economy.
The impact of fake news cannot be erased by simple corrections. A high percentage of people who heard the fake news will never hear the correction. Even those who might learn of the correction might remain with the perception of the original fake news without the appropriate adjustment in their subconscious. This is where the biggest risk of fake news lies.
So what to do when you receive any news? Before believing it and circulating it:
- Verify the link you are viewing as an authentic news source:
If you receive the news as a link, beware of opening the link as it might include a virus. Study the link; sometimes they try to manipulate the link and make it look like it’s a credible news website.
In the example of the fake news mentioned above, they used “sabq.janoubynews.com” while the official website for Sabq (A credible Saudi newspaper) is “sabq.com”. When a link includes another name between the name you recognize and the “.com” part- in this example “.janoubynews”- then it is mostly a fabricated link. They have created a website name, and then created a sub-website (subdomain) to make it look like the website you recognize. This trick works because people often only look at the first part of a URL, assuming it to be the one they trust.
- Look for the same news in other credible websites.
Search for multiple credible news sites supporting the claimed news you read. Double check on the publication dates for that news. If the news is fake, you will most probably not get any recent results validating the news, or the results will not be from credible news sources.
Fake news can have devastating and irreparable effects on society. In today’s social media world, with everyone having a platform and a voice, and where the traditional checks and balances of media sources are not present, we need to be more responsible and mindful of what we consume on social media. Let us not fall prey to the war of fake news and let’s be part of fighting it. Always remember that any fake news, no matter how trivial or harmless it may seem, always has many dimensions you might not think of, whether on your unconscious mind or the county’s wellbeing.
 “Journalism is a discipline of verification,” Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2014). The elements of journalism: what newspeople should know and the public should expect. New York: Three Rivers Press. 98.  Shapiro, I., Brin, C., Bédard-Brûlé, I., & Mychajlowycz, K. (2013). Verification as a Strategic Ritual: How journalists retrospectively describe processes for ensuring accuracy. Journalism Practice, 7(6), 657-673. 669.
Iman Ben Chaibah, founder of Sail Publishing, a digital publishing house for online magazines and ebooks, and editor in chief of the Emirati Sail Magazine, an online magazine about community and culture written in English by Emirati columnists. Iman is a multi-award winner in digital publishing, entrepreneurship, and literature. Iman has also completed the Leadership Strategies in Magazine Media Course at Yale University and is a UAE’s Rosalynn Carter Fellow in Mental Health Journalism. Besides her work in the magazine and book publishing, she also lectures in Canadian University in Dubai.