Guest PostOpinion

The Psychology Behind The Rapid Spread Of Fake News

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If you have been an ardent user of social media for the last five years, chances are you have come across the phrase ‘Fake News’ and pretty sure understand what it is. The way we consume news today has significantly changed and this has oiled the wheels to allow the smooth spread of false information.

The emergence of fake news has caught the attention of policymakers who have pressured tech giants prompting them to introduce changes to their policies, with Google and Facebook both announcing to be working on changes to prevent ‘fake news’ websites from using their respective advertising networks.

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Whereas it has relentlessly been a common sight to point fingers at tech giants, blaming them for allowing fake news to flourish, it should not be completely ignored that we (the users) are also part of the problem.

Without knowing it or deliberately doing so, we have been the helm that has orchestrated and spread fake news, giving it the will to thrive.

Why Fake News Spreads Faster than Authentic News

While critics, policymakers & activists continue to blame algorithms, social media giants and bots for being solely responsible for the spread of fake news, a study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed that Fake news spread faster than true news on Twitter—thanks to people, not bots.

People will easily share and spread fake news unknowingly or simply because they are gullible and may gain status by sharing new information. To explain this plainly, they are more likely to accept information that confirms their beliefs and dismiss information that does not.

How to Tell Fake News

In order for us to ensure the kind of information we are consuming is legitimate and authentic, we as readers are going to have to always have a third eye to track the good and bad news. Here’s how;

  • The domain name of the website is usually suspicious and this should be a red flag to make the article itself shady. Websites that usually share fake news have unusual domain names like bbc.com.co and will always have you mistake them for the official www.bbc.com site if a story is shared. You need to always double-check the domain to confirm. Go out of your way and do some background research on the site before sharing.
  • Fake news articles are usually sensational and characterised with clickbait titles. Always look at the headlines and if they do resonate with the story.
  • Take some time and look for the same piece of information from other credible sources and if there are none, you might want to consider that a fake news article before sharing.
  • To help fight Fake news, there are fact-checkers such as PesaCheck, Africa Check, Snopes and International Fact-checking network that are always fact-checking false information on social media and verifying it. If you have any doubts, you can always check with them.

In the words of Winston Wordsworth, a renowned writer on fake news, spreading misinformation and propaganda isn’t a new social phenomenon, however, the rapid evolution of the internet means that it is easier, cheaper and potentially more damaging than ever before. Further, this is not about to change if we can’t change the way we use the internet. We need to understand what fake news is and then we can collectively fight it.

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