Social Media & Fake News

Umar Farooq
4 min readNov 29, 2019
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It isn’t that fake news didn’t exist before modern social media. The difference is of the pace at which it can spread. Interestingly though, it tremendously increased the fizzle rate as well. Faster the news is spreading, there is always one chasing it. In this increasingly noisy world, let’s see how to make sense of things, as far as one can.

  • Quotations that you receive on your messaging apps — Hardly an hour passes without seeing a quotation associated to a famous personality, pasted over a picture of him/her and shared. There are quick Likes, re-Tweets. Usually a simple Google search can help find out if the quotation is correct to begin with.
  • Forwarded messages within groups — Your friend or just anyone in a group hears something, believes that hearsay to be true and shares it as a matter of fact. Group members forward to other groups that they are part of. Few eccentric ones ask about the source. Even if there is no authentic source it’s already too late, some members have passed the buck.
  • Internet — Just because a sentence is written on a website is taken to be true by the audience. This is mostly a challenge with elders who were adults before internet became popular. For them, internet is still such an advanced technology that anyone with the ability of posting on it definitely is an authority on the content.
  • Creation — If it isn’t enough, one can always create what he think a famous personality may have said, create it over a background of that person and share it. It would have been great if such creations were marked fiction. Unmarked, they are taken at face value and before you know it, what may have been said becomes said.
  • Photographs — With modern software it has become very easy to forge pictures and place someone where he or she is not. It is a bigger problem because more often the targets are people who are alive. To be fair to the audience, it is quite hard to draw a distinction between an original and a manipulated one.
  • Audio — In many jurisdictions, recorded audio is still inadmissible as evidence except where they have been sanctioned by the speaker. On the contrary, audience is always ready to believe it, often figuring out the speaker from from caption rather than the audio.
  • Video — While this one takes longer to do than others, it is nevertheless another worthy medium for spreading truth or otherwise.

To survive this onslaught, here are some tools you can use.

  1. Forwarded messages, quotations, pictures and videos, if you know it to be not true, reply or comment by saying so. Reverse effect also works and readers start to have second thoughts.
  2. It is now extremely easy to post anything on internet. If the source has introduced himself/herself, website is a secure address (see the tiny lock on the left side of in your browser address tab), you may want to give it some weight. If either of these symptoms are missing; think if someone isn’t ready to introduce or authenticate himself it wouldn’t be a good idea to trust the content.
  3. Pictures, audio and video, just don’t believe it if isn’t either from an authentic source or from the actors themselves. Authentic source doesn’t mean you know the person who sent it, it means you know where it originated from. The person sending to you may not have been thorough and could have just passed the buck.
  4. Rule of thumb. If above three filters are too much to remember, if any content presents anyone in bad light, it isn’t true unless proven otherwise.

Innocent until proven guilty is a concept in morality that has taken strong roots in societies with developed justice systems, in others not so much. And content posted on social media isn’t enough proof. One needs to develop his own sense of assessment because technology can only do so much as a filter. While these large social media enterprises do take steps once the content is either tagged to be incorrect or their artificially intelligent systems pick them up but there is far more content out there then it can be managed by such methods.

Social media enterprises are often blamed for how they can’t filter obviously inaccurate content. One reason is to do with cultural understanding. A thing that maybe a taboo in South Asia isn’t one in North America and an expectation for westerners to know about every and often changing sensitivities in the east is not going to come out very well.

It comes down to individual being a bit more careful before pressing Like, re-Tweet or forwarding.