Kevin Power runs for SA president

Managing director of South African based digital agency, Conversation LAB has decided to embark on a political campaign to be the next president of South Africa.

If you clicked on this article because you believed that caption, then you have fallen for one of the biggest scams taking place in the digital world – FAKE NEWS.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon, but with the rise in social media, it has become more prolific. These “news” stories range from your favourite celebrity being killed in an accident, to more sinister news, aimed at creating political crises, and racial and religious conflict in countries around the world.

Claire Wardle of First Draft News identified seven types of fake news

  1. satire or parody (“no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool”)
  2. false connection (“when headlines, visuals of captions don’t support the content”)
  3. misleading content (“misleading use of information to frame an issue or an individual”)
  4. false content (“when genuine content is shared with false contextual information”)
  5. imposter content (“when genuine sources are impersonated” with false, made-up sources)
  6. manipulated content (“when genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive”, as with a “doctored” photo)
  7. fabricated content (“new content is 100% false, designed to deceive and do harm”)

Two of the most notable fake news stories was the Great Moon Hoax in 1835 and War of the Worlds in 1938. The Great Moon Hoax saw The New York Sun publishing articles that were intended to entertain readers and not mislead them. However, many readers believed that a real-life astronomer and a made-up NY Sun Journalist had observed bizarre life on the moon. The publication had to then issue a statement announcing that it was a hoax and had to deal with the backlash from readers.

Orson Wells (an American actor, director, writer, and producer who worked in theatre, radio, and film) was the individual who created “mass hysteria” when War of the Worlds was broadcast on radio on 30 October 1938. War of the Worlds was intended to be a radio drama anthology series. But two parts of this can be classified as fake news – as the news was simply an adaption of the book of the same title. Secondly, the mass hysteria that was reported, was no more than a local town attacking a water tower because they misidentified it as an alien.

With the invention of social media, governments, businesses and individuals are now creating a cyber-warfare to distract or mislead followers. But how? Fake news can be generated by journalists or PR agencies, intentionally reporting on incorrect details or false articles, having them published on reputable news publications. Fake news saw a higher sharing on Facebook than legitimate news stories, as it appeals more to the readers’ expectations or were more exciting than real news.

Other digital fake news generators include socialbots for Facebook and Twitter. Socialbots are a type of bot that controls a fake social media account, and unlike having a person tweet or post from the account, the tweets are automated using high-tech software. Socialbots are used for widespread distribution of the same message or tweet across the platform. They can drown out any messaging that is against theirs and be online 24/7 disseminating the message.

In South Africa, fake news is a growing problem. It is used as a tool to increase media distrust, discredit political opponents and to divert attention from stories and articles about corruption. Most recently, media outlets owned by the Gupta Family have been targeting media outlets and individuals who are attempting to block the Gupta’s attempts at state capture. By levelling accusations, they are saying that these organisations and individuals are promoting state capture for the “white monopoly capital”.

While many fake news articles seem credible, there are a few tips and tricks to ensure that you don’t get fooled.

  1. Check the source. There are many sites that are known for being satirical. These include The Onion, The Daily Show, The Daily Mash and El Mundo Today. You can find more here.
  2. Look for the same news/information from reputable sites. Search for the same news on mainstream media. If you can’t find any information on their sites, it’s most likely fake news.
  3. Use a fake news checker like Snopes or Twitter Audit

See if you can spot fake news with this handy quiz


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