Recent events in both South Africa and abroad have highlighted the problem of the spreading of false information disguised as news.
These fake news stories can cause a lot of damage to the reputations of people and companies alike, whilst diverting attention from more relevant news items.
University of KwaZulu-Natal media expert Professor Jean-Phillipe Wade said the inventing and sharing of such stories is merely “an ego boost”.
Wade called for a massive increase in media and literary studies to be taught at schools as “often people are genuinely taken with these stories and share them without consultation”. “With social media there is no requirement for editorial gate-keeping. Rumours spread far and wide and there’s no way of stopping it but we need to educate people on how to identify what is verified news,” Wade said.
He drew attention to politicians using fake news to boost their image and their political agenda.
Wade said internationally and nationally, politicians often spread fake news to “cover up their tracks”. He mentioned President Donald Trump and President Jacob Zuma as both using false information to justify their decisions or bolster their campaigns.
Reports that South African football star Benni McCarthy committed suicide in London also surfaced this week and journalists from legitimate newsrooms scrambled to track McCarthy down, who squashed the fake reports.
A social media post claiming that 250 cats, dogs, birds, hamsters and horses in the Germiston and Bedfordview SPCA kennels would be euthanised was also circulated this week.
Chairperson of the Gauteng-based SPCA Elroy Parkinson said that as a result of the false information, their phone lines, e-mail and social media channels were flooded by concerned supporters, making it difficult for staff to respond to everyone.
A NUMBER of media experts around the world have published lists and tips on how to spot fake news. Here are some that relate to South Africa:
• Look to see if reputable news sites are also reporting on the story;
• Check for odd-looking domain names;
• Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on snopes.com for more information about the source;
• Watch out for common news websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources;
• Bad web design and use of all caps can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified;
• If the story makes you really angry it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry in order to generate shares and advertising revenue.
By Kailene Pillay and Alet Janse van Rensburg for News24