By Auwal Umar, Gombe
Journalism is a means of socialisation and a tool for moulding the opinions of the members of the general public towards having a thought pattern that reflects the right orientation for nation-building.
It also involves the making of history in view of the fact that the news of today becomes a historical port of call in the future. Journalism prides on fact, accuracy, timeliness and people-oriented interest.
Arguably, it has been said that fact is the most important attribute of a news report because it is based on true information. However, the advent of fake news has become a threat to journalism and the media.
Fake news according to Wikipedia, is seen as a piece of information written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity or person for financial or political gains.
If news is an accurate, factual account of a real event(s), then ‘‘fake news’’ which amounts to placing two contradictory words side-by-side to explain a concept becomes an oxymoron and a ‘‘toxic’’ one at that.
Wardle Claire, a scholar, situated fake news within the larger context of misinformation and disinformation. Explaining further, Claire sees misinformation as the “inadvertent sharing of false information’’.
Similarly, she refers to disinformation as “ deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false’’.
She stressed that the term ‘fake news’ has entered not just scholarly discourse but even daily conversations, invoked not only in efforts to point out false information but also to demonise traditional news organisation.
Fake news waters-down the seriousness attached to the media and makes it more difficult for journalists to carry out their jobs without being doubted by the public.
If a stitch in time still saves nine, then, it’s time to put some solutions in place to nip this threat in the bud. The negative impact of fake news if un-checked will be inescapable.
Many stakeholders have warned against the spreading of lies and propaganda in the media. Leading the pack at every medium provided is Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Ex-Minister of Information and Culture.
Mohammed had at the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) in Port Harcourt, charged the media not to allow itself be used as fake news purveyors during political campaigns.
The minister charged the broadcast organisations and practitioners to pursue national development and progress in the discharge of their responsibilities.
He stressed that fake news is a major social challenge that was gradually creeping into our society, noting that some people were using it under the guise of “freedom of speech” or “right of opinion”.
He said: “They are dishing out unsubstantiated and sometimes outright lies as well as vicious, derogatory and even inciting attacks on individuals and groups.
Corroborating the ex-minister, President Muhammadu Buhari had recently via Twitter said fake news could inspire World War III. The same view was shared by Prof. Wole Soyinka.
President Buhari who was once a target of fake news claiming that he is a clone called for factual reporting by journalists, adding that the press must be accurate all the time.
In a similar vein, Soyinka at a conference organised by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Jan. 9, is of the opinion that fake news can start a war capable of expanding across the globe.
The Noble Prize winner advocated a strict punishment such as jail term for peddlers of fake news, adding that such would help in discouraging the act.
“We need to accept the fact that fake news is real and it should be treated as a crime. There are already existing laws to prosecute offenders of fake news in the country,’’ Soyinka said.
Stakeholders have called for a new legislative action to tackle the growing challenge of fake news in view of the fact that it undermines the credibility of the information and discourse within the society.
However, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo though thinks that the capacity of fake news to cause great harm is not in doubt at all, he rejected further legislation.
Osinbajo said that further legislation would limit press freedom since it could include the right to create a blog or post social media messages.
The aforementioned views by stakeholders on fake news substantiate its threats to the credibility of media outfits and its ability to inform the people. The calls have necessitated a double onus on all stakeholders in the media.
The challenges for all media outfits are to ensure that they do not become platforms for fake news to thrive and to also ensure they verify the source and authenticity of reports before feeding the public.
Though a research by the BBC in November, 2018 shows that Nigerians are consuming mainstream media sources and known sources of fake news comprising Facebook and Whatsapp; Facebook remains the most abused platform.
Facebook which claims to have above 1.23 billion daily active users as of Dec. 2016, according to the 2017 Facebook report, remains the most popular social media platform.
The site which was created to connect friends through the sharing of personal ideas and posts has snowballed into a medium for all sorts of information including news.
It can be recalled at the peak of the ebola outbreak in 2014, how a facebook post in Nigeria that recommends that salt bathing and drinking could help prevent from ebola.
The post was accepted by most Nigerians and it ended up killing several persons than the ebola disease. It turns out to be false yet many Nigerians were already victims and causalities of the fake news.
This is how gullible Nigerians have become to posts or forwarded messages on other social media.
Today, there is a growing population of Nigerian youths who get their news from Facebook without attempting to verify the source of such piece of information.
The research states that in Nigeria, Facebook users consume fake and legitimate news sources equally and are not necessarily concerned about which is which. This strengthens threats of fake news gaining grounds in African media circles.
Sadly, today many of the journalists have developed the habits of cropping news items from social media like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and other social media platforms whose sources cannot be verified.
The good news is that people are now getting to know the threat of fake news and some actions are now being taken. Recently, WhatsApp reduced messages a user can forward from 20 to five.
This was done in an effort to reduce the spread of false information. Such efforts must be encouraged to cut to barest minimum the risk of fake news threatening our media platforms whether social or traditional.
This is a call to all to be mindful of what we share, post, forward and believe as part of today’ users of 1.5 billion daily active users of Facebook and other social media platforms.
For media outlets and journalists, there is no better action than to ensure that the source of whatever is what sharing is confirmed to be true and factual so that the opinions that are moulded in the minds of Nigerians aren’t those of falsehood.
At every point of reportage, we must know that the credibility of the media is put to test and the threats on our collective existence as one indivisible entity could be re-ignited with fake news.
We must not forget that every news report is as good as its source.