The Fake News Epidemic

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We are now well into November. Fresher’s week is an arm’s length in the past and the festive season mocks us for the lack of cheer in our current lives. But, we are also in November which means it’s a year since Donald Trump was officially elected into the Oval Office. More significantly, this month marks the anniversary of his greatest contribution to English speech (or so he claims), ‘Fake News’.

The concept of deliberate misinformation has surfaced in many conversations around the globe. With crumbling barriers to enter mass media, there is good reason to think of it as a millennial creation. Admittedly it would be mighty hard to convince people that Hillary Clinton is running a Child Trafficking racket in the absence of the internet. However, you’d be surprised to learn that fake news has existed for a long time. As early as in the17th century, royalists across Europe fought not only on the battlefield but also through wiles of the pamphleteer. Written word was used to present contradictory versions of the truth and the familiarity in approach is evidence that we haven’t progressed much since.

Trusting the media is like trusting your GP –if their only qualification is being able to look up the NHS website, you’re likely to be convinced that your hangover is actually stomach cancer. Around the same time as the American elections, a falsehood was assertively circulated across the pond, in India. It was claimed that newly introduced 2000 Rupee banknotes had GPS chips which used nano-technology to track its location. This was apparently the government’s solution to do away with black money. As ludicrous as that sounds, what if it was reported at prime time by a mainstream news channel?

41% of people in the UK would believe it. What we often don’t realise is that fake news can do real harm. As realities are largely based on digital stories, our minds are the most exploitable devices on the planet. If you can get a hashtag trending or churn the waters with some fake allegations, you can influence your target to make independent decisions that are favourable to you.

The unfettered flow of information at the palm of our hands is seductive especially when it is curated to our own tastes. Everybody is interested in phone calls and private emails that are “not meant for public consumption”. But how meaningful is this truth when we don’t know why it is being revealed to us?

They say you have to trust your gut, but as a consumer, what if your gut demands a 3-pound conspiracy theory doused in a load of politics? It’s time for us to stop acting as victims. We have to understand that the cyberspace is made up not just of computers but that minds are interacting with the network. For this network, there is no encryption or firewall to protect us but merely our own ability to think critically and press for the truth. Standing up for facts is a kind of patriotic act. A US based lingerie brand is doing just that with their ‘Sexy Fake News’ Halloween costume. I know I have got next year’s outfit sorted, have you?

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