The Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington. A man recently fired a rifle in the restaurant and said he was motivated by a storm of fake online news about a child prostitution ring running out of the restaurant, which was allegedly led by Hillary Clinton. NYT PIX
Young people using social media. For people of a certain age, we are naive to the fact that there are people who are out to deceive others, whatever their agenda may be. NYT PIX

What do we do with fake news? Fight them with the truth, of course. If only it was that easy.

We now have an almost all-accepting social media, where anything goes. While we think we are smart enough to know what is right and what is a lie, we all do fall victim to false news, sometimes.

I am still smarting over a few things posted that I thought were real, when in fact, they were not.

What’s worse is that we could be guilty of perpetuating them by sharing them on our social media postings.

Few of us bother to check, everyone wants to be quick on the trigger — the quickest to the draw, the guy that has the inside scoop, the man with all the connections, the dude with the “mostest”.

One of the most bizarre fake news I have read is about a child prostitution ring that was run out of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. and allegedly headed by Hillary Clinton.

Yet, more alarming is that a poll late last year suggested that nearly half of president-elect Donald Trump’s voters believe that there is some truth to the story.

Why such a story got to the point of the absurd is because no one cared to think and evaluate the veracity of such an item. Politics, more specifically, the politics of hatred, also play an important part.

Soon after the election, the bosses of Facebook and Twitter, both social media platforms most used to spread fake news, began talking about how to get rid of such things from their platforms. If, before they have pledged not to censor in the name of free speech, they are now saying something else. Perhaps their candidate lost.

I have a theory why fake news thrives on social media — the medium in itself is an idealised reality of real life, where things are made to appear better than they really are. Seldom is it associated with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Profile photos are often put forth to influence others’ perception of who or what we are all about.

We may be more glamorous than our mundane lives are, our backdrop is a faraway land or us in dangerous pursuits. We are mysterious and yet accessible, cool and collected, yet fun and full of wit.

Pictures of gatherings or vacations will not be out of place of brochures. The sun, the sea, the hotel and the food are all great. There are, of course, no postings on the long lines at immigration, family feuds, the exorbitant taxi rides or the food poisoning from local fare.

Much of our existence on social media is different from our realities. This, I suppose, is the beginning of us compromising with the truth in the medium. From here on to fake news, the leap would not be so huge.

For people of a certain age, we are naive to the fact that there are people out to deceive, whatever their agenda may be. We apply the sensitivities and rules of the old media, where most content get verified before being published or broadcast. We should now, instead, have our guard up and cynicism amplified.

In our politically-charged environment, there are many documents, pictures and videos going around with varying degrees of trustworthiness.

Yet, many of us contribute to their spread by reposting them again, and few of us are even bothered to look closer that the resignation letters may be faked, pictures digitally-enhanced or the video is doctored.

For some of us, despite our exhortation of digital savvyness, we are as gullible as guppies. We fall hook line and sinker, at times.

We must start teaching people how to spot fakes. Our digital regulator must continue with a relentless all-year round campaign on this, and less time trying to catch people with too much time on their hands to come up with lies and fake content.

Incidentally, such information must be made available at the platforms where fake news thrive, such as social media.

We should always be reminded of the three basic rules of digital content before passing them on — can we verify their truthfulness; do they have anything good to say; and how will it benefit the recipients.

We should start from the kids, much like when they are taught dental hygiene. Make it part of the curriculum. They should be taught how to spot untruths, fabrication and lies on social media.

Fake news should be treated with as much contempt as road accidents and corruption, and its dangers, dengue-like. Many of them, after all, were designed to promote hatred and to divide us.

Zainul Arifin, a former NSTP group managing editor, is now a social media observer

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