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Post Truth Era: Media unwittingly working for fake news organisations

OPINION
By Obar Mark Asuelaa | March 10th 2018

This opinion piece has been inspired by a speech that was released by an American woman, Monica Lewinsky, who spent a decade of public silence while undergoing through Internet-instigated public humiliation and deride.

In 2015, Ms. Lewinsky appeared on a popular talk show, TED, to discourse about her experience in reference to her past love affair that led to the impeachment of former US president William Jefferson Clinton.

In 1998, the US House of Representatives impeached Mr. Clinton on grounds of perjury, obstruction of justice and failure to conduct his constitutional duties by among other things, misleading American public over his sexual activities. Whereas US Senate voted against Clinton Impeachment Trial (CIT) on 12th February 1999, his win against Republicans came at a high price – including public outrage that almost ended Ms. Monica Lewinsky's life.

Monica narrated a torment scheme that hurled a barrage of insults from websites that were particularly out to roast her on a global scale – by use of fake stories. "This scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution. That meant we could access all the information we wanted, when we wanted it, anytime, anywhere. And when the story broke in January 1998, it broke online. It was the first time the traditional news was usurped by the Internet for a major news story. A click that reverberated around the world," she recounted.

Afore to the emergence of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and WhatsApp, digital attacks and character assassinations were carried out in less surreptitious ways.

Presently, fake news is the new con or the new blackmail with digital terror antics, where individuals or groupings with the popular digital following in the society can decide someone's fate by use of weaponisation of information.

Misinformation more often than not takes an extrapolated itinerary that follows specific experiences or anecdotes of general views of members of the public. It's different from exaggeration in that – misinformation is meant to deluge the receivers' minds with one-sided content or pieces of information that can distort people's beliefs even after being debunked.

According to internet media company Buzzfeed, in the final three months of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, the 20 most popular false election stories generated around 1.3 million more Facebook engagements—shares, reactions, and comments—than did the 20 most popular legitimate stories. The most popular fake story was "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President."

The neologism type of yellow journalism or propaganda was also used in Kenya's 2017 General Election in a way that caught mainstream media flat-footed. In an artistic presentation of fabricated news, Kenya's mainstream media often chased after or sometime even published fake stories that had strategically 'been planted' by political black propagandists.

Fake news psychology follows a pattern of acceptable norms of news presentation including simplicity, convenience, and media-language-of-war. Politicians, as well as conmen in their daily operations, have perfectly exploited this psychosomatic approach, which defines emotional quotient as the basis of every news item. For example, since taking office in November 2018, the phrase – fake news - has appeared in some 200 tweets by US President Donald Trump when decrying everything from accusations of sexual assault to Russian collusion investigation.

From a preface point of view, Trump's usage of the phrase 'fake news' may depict a simple rhetorical device to discredit stories he doesn't like, but there is evidence that real fake news is a serious problem in governance, in business and in international economics.

Alternative fact

Fake news developers have since learned the intricacies involved in the trade, and they are very good at it. At first, fake news was a delicate gamble for many politicians who did not know how to respond to circumstances surrounding this new phenomenon. However, Kenya's fake news developers have since found a safe heaven within major political coalitions. Their responsibilities aren't just about outright lies, but they are also supposed to create alternative facts to every major issue – at least to provide another angle that is almost true, almost real or almost factual.

Alternative facts from fake news developers are then distributed using some of the most clandestine ways possible. Forlornly, mainstream media organisations have been the chain and conduit of fake news at the same time.

In the wake of private social networks such as WhatsApp which has conveniently brought Journalist and Politicians together in a more personalized way, fake news that have been generated by political outfits comfortably find themselves in the newsroom through people (Journalists) who are supposed to be fighting their very existence.

Journalists have been re-sharing fake news publications in attempts to confirm whether they are genuine or phony. In the process, the fake news spread faster than authentic news since it will take substantial amount of minutes or hours before the accused person in a story can confirm or denounce the story in totality. As part of a stratagem to fight fake news, Facebook introduced a feature that would help Internet users to flag down fake publications. Unfortunately, Facebook soon noticed that fake stories were identified and shared more widely than authentic stories – yet this is what they were avoiding.

Fake news developers use mainstream media organization so as to get a sense dependability trait. They understand that Internet users are more likely to believe a news alert or publication that has been shared online by a Journalist or that which has been announced on a local radio station.

Land selling scammers are using fake news, fake testimonies and fake pictures to sell nonexistent pieces of land through mainstream media, especially through Christian media organizations. They know that potential buyers are more likely to believe land sales that have been advertised on a Christian radio station than the publication of the same on a rascal blog.

 Strategic investment in quality information and actions to combat hatred, racism and intolerance requires clear-cut attachment to ethical values in the management and governance of media.

Fake news is a readymade raw material for a global stage humiliation that can overturn someone's life in a matter of minutes. The rush to make technologically enabled judgment has led to mobs of virtual stone-throwers, grandstanders and emotional swindlers of our time. Online comments, social media tirades, email stories and cruel jokes are the manifestations of what we now know as cyber-bulling and online harassment. Sadly, there are hardly any laws that are supposed to define the criminality in such actions.

The cost of public humiliation and shaming doesn't take into account the devastating effects it has on the victims. Recent internationally recognized digital scandals include a third-party app, SnapChat that was once hacked, and over 100,000 personal conversations, photos and videos leaked online where they will forever stay for public viewing.

Private and intimate nude photos of American actress Jennifer Lawrence and several other actors were released online after an embedded hacker gained entry into their iCloud accounts. The price tag for popular personalities' private lives is very high and attracts a huge 'market-for-shame'. Sex-tapes are some of the most expensive contents at global media markets.

The hacking of Sony Pictures received an unprecedented public embarrassment value since private emails, documents and digital contents found their way to the Internet. In Kenya, many Members of Parliament, celebrities and business entities have suffered in the public shaming marketplace, which includes gossip websites, paparazzi, politics and news outlets.

The business of clicks has just begun! We are not sure where it will take us, but there is no doubt that it's increasing becoming so difficult to contain fake news. "The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars. We are in a dangerous cycle. The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we become to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click," Monica Lewinsky.

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