Lies, damned lies and fake news

28 Aug 2018

Published in: Miscellaneous

Sundeep Sehijpal, director of Star Public Relations, examines the continuing and undesirable phenomenon of fake news.

We all hate being lied to, but we have got used to the fact that it happens to us on an almost daily basis. Most of us are wise to hoax phone calls, such as the ones from "Microsoft" telling us there is a problem with our computer, or those from a bank asking for our account details.  

But now we have to be on our guard that not everything we read and see is real – the undesired phenomena of fake news. And by fake news we mean something that is actually made up, not President Trump's version of fake news where he considers anything published that he doesn't like as fake news.

Amazingly, fake news is not a new thing? In fact, it was 100 years ago that one of the most famous Fake News hoaxes managed to fool people across the world. In 1917 two young girls in Yorkshire claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden. It was a stunning deception and the Cottingley Fairies, which managed to fool the self-styled detective Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actually turned out to be cardboard cut-outs.

Fast forward 100 years and it isn't two young girls that are pulling the wool over people's eyes. Facebook has been in the hot seat regarding stories on its platform that aren't real, but look legitimate on people's pages. A lot of the stories are clickbait, which hope to lure readers over to particular websites, while others are so outlandish that it is amazing anyone thinks they are real. 

So, you can rest assured that LEGO isn't responsible for thousands of cases of cancer in the UK, Britain won't be invading Switzerland over the new shape of Toblerones and Canada's leader Justin Trudeau will not be building a wall between his country and the USA.

The question is, why do some of us believe stories like this, which cause so much outrage?  

If we didn't fall for these news stories and share them, then they wouldn't cause so much trouble. One explanation is that we aren't paying enough attention to the credibility of the news source when we read it online. Studies have shown that online news readers don't seem to really care about the importance of journalistic sourcing. 

But it could be more than that. A hundred years ago Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used a photo of the Cottingley Fairies to illustrate an article in The Strand Magazine. Doyle was a spiritualist and saw the photos as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. How are we any different today? In a world where political divides run deep, there is anger against banks and big businesses and celebrities seem to rule the world is it any wonder that a lot of us gleefully seek out information that confirms our beliefs, truth be damned.

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