In the not too distant past finding out about news consisted of picking up a printed news paper or watching it on the TV. These traditional media channels with well-trained journalists and strong editorial control made the news generally reliable. The publication of out right lies was relatively rare and could be tackled more easily as a result through strong libel laws. There was also as a result also far less News and so it was easier to follow, digest and if necessary challenge.
With the advent of social media we have all become journalists and editors combined. We can write news, comment on it and share it as we wish using any social media channel we wish, many of us maintain our own sites through facebook, snap chat, instragram and the like. We will have ‘news’ appear on our stream and can decide whether to ignore it, like it or make any comment we might feel appropriate. It has become very difficult as a result to filter out what is real from what is made up or fake.
The ease in which news can be shared is also a positive allowing families and community groups to be able to share their news quickly and with little cost. The College, for example, uses facebook extensively to distribute news with the rest of our community, we regularly post sports victories, photos from the latest trips and from time-to-time critical information which is needed to be shared quickly. In early December we had a snow fall which closed many local schools, we were however able to remain open thanks to hard work of the site team who quickly made the site safe. This was announced on our facebook page and quickly became one our most popular posts as the following picture demonstrates.
In December we had nearly 14000 page views; 6000 of which are represented by the spike caused by the snow announcement of staying open. What surprised us was the amount of ‘fake’ news the post attracted. There were a number of horror stories posted in the comments about car crashes into the side of the building and staff slipping causing a serious accident that required their hospitalisation; none of which were true. There were also a small number of students who posted about how appalled they were that the College remained opened, yet bragged to their friends how they’d stayed at home and gone sledging. The combination of these fake news posts caused undue concern for some of our younger students and their families resulting in unnecessary work for staff who had to manage the subsequent queries and explain just how safe everyone was.
This relatively minor inconvenience of needing to manage false posts on our facebook post is small indeed compared to the concern caused by the ‘fake news’ spread through social media following a real crisis. In the aftermath of the Westminster bridge attack a photograph of a muslim woman was spread purporting to demonstrate a complete lack of concern on her part. This image was spread widely and was used by some extreme groups to help spread discord and divide against our muslim communities. The truth of the photo was the lady concerned was simply contacting home to let her family know she was ok. She had already offered help and would do so again after this phone call. The photograph was a gross misrepresentation of what had happened. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/24/woman-hijab-westminster-bridge-attack-victim-photo-misappropriated
In another very disturbing example of ‘fake news’ there were many photographs circulated on social media of children who were thought to be missing following that attack at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester. There were far too many that were false however, one image was of a teenager who had died years previously caused particular distress to her family and friends. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-40010376
On occasion, the impact of ‘fake news’ can be very personal I was unfortunately harassed using social media which ultimately led to the perpetrator being successfully prosecuted. It was an awful experience that has had long-lasting repercussions for myself and family.
My advice therefore when news appears on your social media feed is to check your facts before responding, real news will have well linked sources that corroborate what is being stated. If they don’t it is a simple matter to search on-line and check. If you choose to comment remember this is likely to be available for everyone to read, would you be happy if this was read by your family and friends? Think about the impact on the victims of such posts and that by sharing or liking such ‘fake news’ you will be adding to their distress. If you find ‘fake news’ that is harmful to others report it using the tools available on social media, if it is about a friend inform an appropriate adult so that responsible action can be taken.