An analysis of 30 million news media-based twitter stories relating to the American elections that pitted Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump indicates that nearly 10 million of the Twitter feeds were based on fake news.
These included images of Hillary meeting a “cartel of paedophiles” who apparently were running Washington DC and stories about Trump’s infamous “golden showers” in Moscow. For such a literate and presumably informed country, it is shocking that many citizens swallowed the fake news stories and made electoral decisions based on the news.
As we enter the last week of Elections 2022, Kenya is awash with fake news. The only difference between America’s 2016 and our 2022 election is that fake news has become more sophisticated. It is easily imbibed by persons otherwise intelligent and well exposed.
A few weeks ago, the internet was inundated with a story indicating that ODM leader Raila Odinga had been honoured as one of the top alumni of Germany’s Leipzig University. Impressively, the story’s creators had built a fake university uniform resource locator, the URL, so that if you google the story even today, it will take you to the fake site. You needed to be quite tech-alert to recognise the slight alteration to the formal link to the university, to recognise it as fake.
Even one of our premier dailies fell for the story and published it in their edition only to withdraw it later sheepishly. Just this week, minutes after DP Ruto’s one-man “debate”, a story purporting to be “NTV Breaking News” announced the arrest of a KPLC worker who purportedly admitted to switching off lights in large swathes of Kenya, apparently to “blame the deep state”. People were robustly sharing the story several days later.
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I have seen many fake stories of the former PM apparently asleep on the podium, at one time he was even standing! Other fake stories include either candidate being shouted down with hollers of their rivals’ names and slogans during campaign meetings.
With some basic interrogation, you can tell these images have been superimposed. Many are however the work of experts and can easily deceive. Many people believe fake news is inconsequential but the American elections prove otherwise.
Not only do they energise the base, but they are generally intended for the small sliver of undecided voters who nowadays swing elections. People seeing a candidate who they are unsure about asleep on a podium will consider the energetic candidate a safer bet.
People who doubt a candidate’s educational background will revise their vote upon seeing them recognised by a premier university. One thing is for sure, fake news is not about to exit the stage, more so because it is more interesting than reality. But it is contaminating our politics and increasing our partisan approach to public issues. Consequently, like Eneke the bird, who learnt to fly without stopping when men learnt to fly without missing, we must develop the knack for identifying fake news.
Firstly, we must maintain a critical attitude that distrusts sensational stories that deviate from the ordinary. More so during an election or similar phenomenon when sensational stories are intended to create fear, excitement, or anger to inform our opinions and choices.
Secondly, do not be a lazy consumer of information without basic research on sources. Any consequential news story will be covered by multiple and generally credible news sources where the authors are usually identified.
Be wary of dodgy news outlets however catchy their titles sound. Finally, be a responsible citizen who never forwards stories without being personally sure of their genuineness. We may not eliminate fake news, but we can surely reduce its damaging impact on our fragile society.