'Forwarded as received': The fake news dilemma

Published: July 21, 2018
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Representational image. PHOTO: AFP

Representational image. PHOTO: AFP

Rumours of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairperson appointing Mufti Qavi as his religious adviser spread like wildfire on social media. Lack of verification and relying on ‘forwarded as received’ messages has given rise to fake news as we know it an era where social media is relied upon more than traditional mediums of information dissemination.

We have all been victims of forwarded WhatsApp messages, but how many times have we tried to check its source? With a sharp increase in the number of users accessing the internet, social media sites have gained traction in recent years. Misinformation also leads to fake news.

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PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry told The Express Tribune that he was also a victim of propaganda and fake news. “Individuals on the internet attribute religious statements to my name, which leads to people passing negative statements about me,” he lamented. “When this happens, things may spin out of control leading to death threats and mob behaviour can be witnessed on the internet. There are no cyber laws to protect me or any other politician,” Chaudhry added.

Chaudhry, however, said that this should not discourage the use of social media, and users should verify before believing all news stories that they come across on social media.

Digital rights activist Nighat Dad, while speaking to The Express Tribune, said photo-editing software like Adobe Photoshop plays a huge role in the disseminating of fake news. “Media outlets now hire digital journalists and online fact checkers to verify news to ensure authenticity. However, social media platforms and the users make it a difficult task,” she added.

“People need to be educated more and taught not to believe everything over the internet. But only 20 per cent of the population has access to the internet. Out of these 20 per cent, only a few wish to look at political news, and of that few, an even smaller number will fall for fake news. So is monitoring fake news bigger than our perception?” she questioned.

Journalist Mazhar Abbas said the frequency of fake news is increasing because negativity sells more. “People on social media use abusive language heavily. Even on talk shows, the louder the politicians sitting there, the more their popularity, even though their arguments may be baseless. Political campaigns formed around nitpicking, name-calling, mud-slinging have become the norm. Opinions are formed on the first reports people hear,” he said.

Abbas added that political parties are helpless in the fight against fake news. “However, parties have started to introduce digital policies in their manifestos. Local news outlets are more drawn to sensationalism and ratings and sometimes ethics and fact-checking takes a back seat,” he added.

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Our politicians have fallen prey to this phenomena multiple times. Former defence minister Khawaja Asif tweeted a threat to Israel in response to a tweet posted by an unverified account claiming to be of the Israeli armed forces.

A more recent example was when a notification did the rounds of Lahore High Court (LHC) ordering PEMRA to ban deposed premier Nawaz Sharif and other PML-N leaders’ speeches.

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