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5 lessons for fighting the information disorder

We live in a very divisive, and polarised world where partisan interests drive the need for fake news. In a fast-moving, ever changing news landscape and the war on winning the narrative which creates the lasting impact in minds of the news consumer, any breaking-news is an event which could make the story believable.

Fundamentally, to survive the information disorder, the most important thing is to have a nose for scepticism and make the cardinal rule to question everything. It is the golden rule of old-school journalism but it is also a suggestion which remains among the most powerful, most important in this craft. You have to be on your toes. When there is news that is too good to be true, be the devil’s advocate and work as if the news IS false. Work it with process of elimination before finding if the news is true or not.

With social media this has become so much more difficult due to advance in technology and people with skills and tools to manipulate information and make it appear authentic enough. Or even a picture is doctored just a little bit to push a certain angle. There’s no rocket science per se, except that vigilance is a human trait and that needs to be sharpened. There are tools which help in assisting detecting the fake news and to identify anything which is manipulated but at the end of the day, it your own news sense which will make you question something to see if it is fake or not.

But, here are some ways to get you started:

  • Avoid tickers

Most screenshots of news channels we see on social media aren’t real, or misleading and used out of context by people who know that falsehoods based on a kernel of truth are more likely to be believed and shared.

Next time you spot a ticker circulating, double check with other news sources and verify before you react.

For journalists, under NO circumstances should you construct a story from tickers alone. Slow down, better be right than first.

  • Be responsible: Don’t give disinformation additional oxygen

Every now and then we see a Twitter trend calling for someone’s arrest or propagating hate. Even if we are aware the trend is not organic, we go ahead and tweet the hashtag to condemn it. Don’t. Tweeting the hashtag only amplifies its reach.

  • Go beyond the headline

When so many people get their news from just tweets, Facebook posts, as headlines on Google News, or push notifications, the responsibility for how headlines are worded is more important than ever. It doesn’t matter if the 850 word article provides all the context and explanation to debunk or explain why a narrative or claim is false, if the 80 character version of that context is misleading, it’s all for nothing.

If you are debunking something, clearly point out what went wrong. If you are clarifying an earlier misreported report, clearly state what part was incorrect.

  • Don’t forward

WhatsApp has been identified as the hotbed for spreading falsehoods. Despite, the forward as received feature, people still tend to fall for messages that have been recirculated.

Passing on information first is one urge hard to control, especially if you’re a journalist, but do your homework first. If you want to verify its source, clearly state you are unsure rather than sending it with a question mark.

  • Stop labelling everything fake news

Fake news is meant to deliberately mislead, misinform/disinform in order to pursue an agenda and push for a narrative arc to be accepted as the unquestioned truth. It needs to be repeated again and again there’s a difference between ‘fake news’ and what at times fan be factually incorrect.

When we term everything incorrect on social media as fake news, we automatically imply that the mainstream media is responsible. As users of social media, everyone is equally responsible for creating, sharing and spreading verified information. A comment on Facebook page is not fake news, a misleading headline is not fake news, a forward message is not fake news.

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