Digital platforms have given a lead to innovative reporting practices that enable different forms of communication and greater global reach, and Namibia is no exception. But on the other hand, falsehood and hoaxes in the channels of communication are accelerating and affecting the way Namibians interpret daily developments. Young people mostly access news through online sources, relying heavily on mobile devices for their communications. Although online media has become a source of information in our daily lives, we should not always depend on it, as there are various misinforming contents giving the public wrong information.
Misinformation refers to false information that has the capacity to spread through society and influence public opinion such as satire, designed for humour – pieces of information that have not yet been confirmed as true or false.
Misinformation, of course, is as old as civilisation – and organised fake news has been known throughout history, such as during election campaigns for political gains. These days, the systematic use of digital media requires considerable filter to limit the range of actors who take advantage of these technologies to avoid media users and spread falsehood. During this time of Covid-19 pandemic, there have been various fake news about the virus, which are being spread among people through various social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. For example, there has been information on home remedies to tackle the virus, misinforming people to avoid eating certain food such as ice cream and many others. False information is dangerous, as it may affect public opinion.
People don’t think twice before sharing content on social media. After receiving content like malicious video clips and pictures, they start sharing the content without verifying if it is real or fake. This is because our minds are only activated to let the people know about what is happening and the privilege of being the first to inform – and there are various situations in which people led themselves into trouble for sharing fakes new. People think sharing the information before others gives them a sense of self-importance, and others do it for fun.
Some governments have moved to create government regulations to control information flow and censor content on social media platforms. This year, with the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, health minister Kalumbi Shangula announced government, specifically the health authority, would fine people who spread Covid-19-related false information.
This information may consist of manipulated or fabricated content. The government demonstrates that it is willing to act, and such policy sounds reasonable to dissuade the public from spreading fake news, but the regulation should not only apply during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fake news consists of three different concepts: misinformation, disinformation, and mal information. Misinformation is false information shared by someone who believes it is true. Disinformation is shared deliberately by a person after knowing it is true, whereas mal information is based on authenticity but imposes harm on a person, organisation or even country. All of the above together are called fake news.
Indeed, it can be a challenge to fact-check among the populace, but the traditional verification method is through search engines by reading various information and documents, as well as by emailing or calling the person/organisation for verification.
The good method when you encounter fake news and misinformation while browsing your social media feeds is to ask, hide or block the trending post that contains misinformation. If you have previously liked or subscribed to a page that spreads fake news, unsubscribe to it.