Thursday, June 17, 2021

How Responsible Are We for Fake News?

False news, fake news, is pervasive in society; always present but in modern times the purveyors of the news are beyond counting. Emotional reaction to the false, often because of its novelty, spreads fast and does great harm. In the Peace Weekly column In the Eyes of a Priest, the writer shows us some of the harm.

Around 2010 a website appeared with the object of making known the "falsehood" of a famous vocalist's claim to have graduated from a well-known American university. They made known the 'reasons' why this was a false claim. The singer celebrity made clear that his graduation was no fabrication. But the public outcry did not cease. Finally, with all the nasty comments and suffering he had to undergo he sued the management of the website.

No matter what evidence the celebrity brought to their attention it was always attacked for being protected by authorities, his evidence was all fabricated no matter what evidence was presented. At one time there were over 200 thousand members of the website.

The degree of attention that was given to the case was shown when a member of the Attorney General Office went before the National Assembly promising that there would be a strict investigation of the case. After three years those responsible for the website were sentenced for spreading false information, But even after this was made known there were a few who continued and were not able to give up. This is a good example of what is meant by Confirmation Bias.

Recently we had a case of a young college student who died with much of the aspects associated with the vocalist celebrity. Although there was a thorough investigation of the circumstances by the police and medical authorities, saying there was no evidence of murder. However, rather than rational counterarguments, provocative and emotional arguments continued. 

Some media and one-person media even actively manipulated facts and spread them without verification. The media world becomes more and more melodramatic because of its desire to become famous and make money easily from advertising revenue.

"Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses of the truth: to go, to see, and to share."This is a quote from Pope Francis's message on Communication Day May 16.

In a considerable number of media and one-person media, responsibility disappears, and narcissism only increases, and people who consume news and video produced in this way also have a serious confirmation bias in the more provocative content. 

Clearly, drastic and structural reforms in the media market are also needed. We need to change the media ecosystem that makes money by clicking. However, let's think about what individuals can do together with institutional improvement. If all were careful in what we clicked and the comments we make and realized the control that we have, wouldn't we see a change?

As healthy consumers of the media, we can make wise decisions on where to click or not click. Would it not be a good practice to skip the provocative titles on my computer and phone?



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