Social media companies have sought to address the problem by attaching warning labels and setting up information centres on content related to political elections or COVID-19.
Critics charge that these measures are of limited efficacy as they depend on the individual actively clicking on links and verifying the information. Since all content is marked, whether legitimate or fake, responsibility is shifted onto users.
Moreover, even if public posts are tracked, fake news continues to run rampant in private messaging apps.
With two billion global users, WhatsApp is the primary mode of communication in numerous countries. However, its end-to-end encryption means it cannot flag falsehoods, and without effective gatekeeping, it has become a major conduit of fake news.
In countries like Indonesia, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, myths about drinking water every 15 seconds or eating garlic to prevent COVID-19 made the rounds on WhatsApp. Anxious families sent these messages to each other, turning remedies without scientific backing into miracle cures.
Turning rumours into reality
Users are more susceptible to fake news when their media diets exclude diverse viewpoints. Since algorithms recommend content based on past preferences, existing points of view seem to be supported by online information.
In an already polarised climate, incendiary stories with no grounding in fact can entrench divisions and lend credence to wild conspiracy theories.
Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims of a stolen election stoked the violent mob that attacked the US Capitol in 2021. Refusing to accept the election outcome, protestors laid siege to a symbol of democracy, leaving 140 injured and five dead.
Spread irresponsibly, fake news can erode a society’s consensus on the facts, shape worldviews and even incite people to violence, in order to defend their version of the truth.
Learn how truth is being undermined by cutting-edge deepfakes in “How Fake is Your Reel?”