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Fake news in the social media

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It was only ‘yesterday’. Whenever news broke, you could bet your life on it that it was true. Breakings news then were not only ‘newsy’, they were equally true and factual. Gone were those days. Days when the media was largely reliable. Gone were those days; days when men and women of the media used to conduct themselves in line with the strict ethics of journalism. Gone were those days when national security trumped all considerations for personal emoluments. Gone were those days, when media houses operated with nationalist agenda; gone were those days when truth never got cloaked in ethnic or religious garbs. Those days appear to have gone.

Welcome to the new day; welcome to today. Welcome to the new age on this stage, this age and stage in our life as a nation. Welcome to the age of the new normal. Welcome to an era when and where what is foul becomes cloaked with that which is fair; when that which is fair is quickly lost in the maze of corruption, in the odorous currents of ethno-religious passions and sentiments.

He is a senior colleague of mine in the university. His concern and passion for the progress of this country is indubitable. Whenever we got together, outside the country, whenever we met either in the restaurant or in the serenity of the ‘paradise’ in which his quarters is located, he was always quick to bring up new issues affecting the nation. Thus it was not a matter of surprise to me when he forwarded the news thread to me in which the leader of the MiyetiAllah was said to have declared with impunity and audacity that herdsmen were responsible for the atrocious acts that happened a couple of weeks back on the Plateau. As if to underscore the imminence of the new state of anomie the said leader of herdsmen envisioned for this country, we were told via the news thread, the news thread released by the online news media, that the Fulani were all set for a total onslaught against this nation and citizen; the Fulani were not only going to take over the land, they were prepared to turn everything upside; the Fulani were set to empty the ocean on to the earth; they were prepared to bring down the heaven on to the earth. It was simply insensate and, as it sounded, completely banal. I then decided to engage my colleague in a conversation.

I reminded him of similar news in the recent past, the so-called breaking news- news that broke only to turn out to be false. I thereafter formulated, in the manner of the legal luminary, three scenarios for our contemplation. I said: “Sir! Let us imagine the content of this ‘breaking news’ is true. The implication for the current government at the centre becomes clear- it would be faced with one of two choices: either that of criminal and heinous silence and lack of deterrent action while the so-called Fulani marauders visit the threatened pestilence on the entire nation or that of preemptive action to defend innocent citizens across the country.
Possibility number two was for us to treat the said ‘breaking news’ as a a doctored version of the interaction between the leadership of MiyetiAllah and the journalist who went to town with the sensational news. Possibility number three was that the entire news might be fake after all. Days after our conversation, we learnt that the news of imminent Armageddon to be flagged off by the herdsmen was indeed fake after all.

Only a couple of days ago, your brother equally found himself in the eye of the storm. He became a victim, an unwilling carrier and proselytizer of fake news. He received a video clip of a ketchup factory in an unknown part of the world. It was simply scary. Like the MiyetiAllah story, it turned out to be false. Ketchup is a simple menu that your sister and mine could make all by herself using available ingredients from all our local markets!

Brethren here lies the challenges confronting you and me as Muslims. It is simply that of how to be circumspective and not to fall prey to the ever-active and seemingly inimitable fake news media outlet which constantly feed on our weakness and constant presence on the social media. During the US election of 2016, it was reported that top twenty fake news stories that were put on the social media by their producers generated nearly nine million shares, reactions and comments on Facebook alone. We all know what became of that election. When the news of the threat of the MiyetiAllah broke on the social media, it worked like magic in favour its producer. It sealed the wedge hitherto being placed by enemies of this nation between various ethno-religious subjectivities all around this country. The Fulani became public enemy number one. The Fulani became a metaphor for the enemy at the centre; the persona at the centre which is hated with passion by the periphery.

Welcome to the age of the new-normal. But I guess we all need to be wiser, to be careful. We must cultivate the habit of filtering all news items that come our away in order to ascertain their authenticity and truthfulness. I then appreciate the Quranic instruction and injunction the more. The Almighty says: verify all information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful (Quran 49: 6). Just before I concluded this essay, I chanced upon the following steps one could take in order to identify fake news.

It was published by The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). As soon as the news come your way- Read beyond the headline (to understand the whole story); Check the authors (to see if they are real and credible); Assess the supporting sources (to ensure they support the claims); Check the date of publication (to see if the story is relevant and up to date); Ask if it is a joke (to determine if it is meant to be a satire); Review your own biases (to see if they are affecting your judgement) and ask experts (to get confirmation from independent people with knowledge). The old adage remains true- if in doubt, find out!
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