Before the advent of instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, rumours were spread mostly by word of mouth. Most of us just brushed such rumours off. Such things were too unimportant to decide if they were rumour or news, let alone to label it as fake or false. But there is something inherently more compelling when information is seen visually, in text or pictorial formats.
Over the last 10 years, things have taken a turn with the convenience of instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp. Most of us belong to chat groups or broadcasts where messages and media are shared instantly by simply forwarding them. Such convenience has allowed hoaxes and fake news to spread without knowing where such information stemmed from. These fake stories include out-of-date or out-of-context information, unfounded medical “facts”, photo, video, or audio manipulation etc.
It can’t be denied that such fake news can lead to dire consequences. In one devastating example it has led to death in India’s northeastern Assam state, two picnickers who stopped at a village to ask for directions were lynched as the villagers thought they were child kidnappers roaming the country following a video circulating in WhatsApp. Similar incidents in the country have led to immediate action from authorities and WhatsApp also started a media blitz to educate the public with this 10 easy tips to spot fake news.
In Singapore, the government-appointed Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods proposed 22 recommendations. Their main objective is to regulate online falsehood by introducing legislation with the goal of disrupting the virality of the “fake news”, increasing the reach of the corrections, as well as allowing technology companies to prevent the abuse of their platforms to spread falsehoods.
All these measures could help curb fake news but ultimately it is down to the individual to critically judge the authenticity of any information they receive or decide if they should be shared. Fake news is not limited to WhatsApp as we see such falsehoods being shared on other platforms. We librarians strive to educate the importance of media and information literacy so that critical reading and thinking is readily applied in this age of rampant falsehoods.
This infographic from International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) gives eight tips on how to spot fake news regardless of the platform, which will come in handy to navigate our ever-evolving information landscape.
Unable to decide if it’s false or fake news? You can always consult us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help!