On the High Rate of Fake News on Social Media

On the High Rate of Fake News on Social Media

On Friday, 28th February, 2020, a screenshot of alleged news presented on AIT Facebook page went viral. In that screenshot was the face of a dark man and some write-ups claiming that the man in the picture (a Yoruba judging from the name provided) was the Nigerian that took the Italian man, who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, to Ogun State. The ‘news’ claimed that the man, after testing positive to coronavirus, escaped from the hospital and threatened to infect many Nigerians with the deadly disease unless he is paid the sum of N100m. Whoever that wrote that ‘news’, supposedly the AIT, appealed to the general public to look out for and avoid the man whose picture was in the article.

When I saw that post, I didn’t know what to make of it. I know anything is possible in Nigeria but I found it hard to believe that someone could play such a stunt. So I took it with a pinch of salt and waited for more ‘news’ on the man.

The awaited news came in the form of a video that showed this same man addressing the public, saying he had never been to Lagos for the past two years. This man said he is from Edo State and that he has been with his family all these while. He even said he was with them when he received the rumour that he drove the white man to Ogun State and that he tested positive to the virus. From what he said, you can deduce that the picture was his but the name wasn’t. Anyway, what the public cares about is the picture and not the name.

AIT has denied posting this news and has issued a disclaimer, but then the damages had been done. This left some questions unanswered, which include, “Who spread that news?” “What was his/her intentions?” “How did they get the pictures and the names?”

The problem of fake news on social media didn’t start today. It is common on Facebook (just as this present one was also sent into Facebook). Years ago, one of my Facebook contacts complained that her friends noticed that she had different Facebook accounts with different names. She went in search of ‘her’ different accounts and truly found them. She screenshot like five of them and posted them for us to see. We saw the profile pictures and they were truly her pictures. We searched those accounts and saw that the people that opened these fake accounts monitored her seriously and ensured that all her picture updates were copied into those fake accounts. In fact, you will believe these accounts were hers except that her names were different. Whoever that went into the pains of creating those accounts obviously had some fraudulent intentions in mind.

This sort of thing is also becoming rampant in WhatsApp. The one they do in WhatsApp is actually hacking into people’s accounts and using them to beg money from their contacts or transact illegal businesses. A WhatsApp contact of mine recently sent messages across to his contacts stating that all should ignore any pornographic news or posts sent by his number because he just heard that some people are using his identity to advertise pornography and pornographic sites. He later found out that his account was hacked by an Italian tech company and all.

But the one that is more destructive, in my own opinion, is that which involves purporting fake news and inserting someone’s name and pictures to it. Or where true stories were told and your picture used as the “file photo”. Imagine waking up one day only to see your face plastered all over social media and a story that sounded like something from the moon told about you. The shock of hearing that you did what you didn’t do is enough to mess up your whole day. Believe me, things like these are damaging to the personality of the person who was “lied against”.

But that still hasn’t solved the issue of “who coined those stories and for what reason.” A lot of people may claim that the stories were made up by the ‘enemies’ of the person slandered. In as much as this is the only logical answer, I still want to call our attention to the fact that some people are just mischievous. It could be that, that viral news on the Uber driver that transporter the coronavirus victim was brought up out of mischief or it could be that the target wasn’t the man whose picture was plastered there. It is possible that the perpetrator of this wicked act was targeting AIT so as to drag them to the mud for damaging someone’s dignity. For that I think AIT needs to explain better how such news could be released on their page without their knowledge.

How to Avoid Being a Victim

It is almost impossible to avoid being a victim to this malicious act. You never can tell who the devil will send your way to tarnish your image. And avoiding using social media outlets still won’t save you. But you can take some precautions to minimise the chances of being the victim.

  1. Be mindful of Your Photos: Getting someone’s picture is easy in social media, so there’s no need wondering how they did that. But one has to be careful with the kind of picture one puts up in social media. A girl on Twitter, some weeks ago, complained of a picture of her sitting with her girlfriends in a night party, or just girls’ hangout, was used as a file photo in news that told about some girls that went to night club and one or two things happened. Her picture was obviously chosen because she and her friends were scantily clad and the picture background matched the purpose of the message.
  2. Be Predictable: Some people are easily predictable, concerning what they send into social media and the lives they live outside it. For instance, if this man that said he wasn’t the Uber driver wasn’t predictable (I don’t know if he is, anyway), there’s no way he will claim not to have been to Lagos for the past two years and people will believe him. In the same vein, my contact that sent out warnings about his account being used to advertise pornography wouldn’t have been warned by his friends if he had a shady life. This is just to say, that if people can predict what you can do, and what you will never do, fake news about you can easily be refuted by them before it even gets to you.
  3. Send out Regular Disclaimers: This might sound funny but it helps. Whenever you see people claiming they didn’t do something or that they wouldn’t do something, don’t think they weren’t serious. Sometimes it is good to remind your contacts that they should be approached by ‘you’ for some transactions, they should call you first, hear your voice and verify that it was you. Otherwise, someone can use your identity and collect loans from people that know you. You should also be fast enough to disclaim any fake news about you. Don’t wait for it to linger because you believe that very soon people will forget. They may forget at that time, but you don’t know what it might lead to in the future.

Those people that easily circulate news articles that landed on the inbox need to verify to be sure what they are about to post out is authentic. For me, the easiest way I check authenticity of any news is to read national dailies such as Punch newspaper and co. But a lot of people are more in a hurry to post out “breaking news” than to be sure the news won’t bring them embarrassment.

But then, everyone needs to be on alert. Don’t assume that you are safe because it could be your turn tomorrow. Keep alert and always send out disclaimers to your friends to keep reminding them that you will not do anything to jeopardise your integrity.

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