By Prof R. A. Ipinyomi, University of Ilorin, Nigeria
We don’t think that the public is unaware of the existence of fake news in the society, but it’s prevalence and it’s negative consequences might not have been considered. The fear actually is that the phenomenon is now a big business and being marketed in the internet, spreading falsehoods with the speed of light to unsuspecting but gullible audience. By definition fake news is made-up stuff, fraudulent statistics, fabricated news, make – believe lies. The object of trading in fake news is to cleverly manipulate public opinion and turn fake news to look like credible academic reports that can be easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the falsified information. This is becoming a staple food of politicians and the main content of their speeches. More often than not, politicians always overstate their performances by rolling out false statistics, distort their opponents’ positions, or simply tell out-and-out whoppers. From there the internet, their surrogates and pundits spread the spin, turning false statistics to appear as truth.
The prevalence of political fact abuse and and misuse of Statistics has been growing over the years but the phenomenon may become the order of the day in the coming year 2017 and beyond. It will be assisted to be growing further because our society is generally polarized by different religious beliefs, political candidates incapable of trading and campaigning on real issues, ethnicity and their supporters. Such circumstances always give rise to spreading fake news with impunity. Further more, in a society where citizens are pursuing the fast and fat money lane no matter it’s source, everyone is in hurry to find out the correct information.
In the academic the battle is to encourage original research and discourage falsehoods or data fabrication, outright plagiarism, misinterpretation of results and wrong analyses. The battle is a colossal war in a culture of “publish or perish”. In political arena the consequence of following politicians who trade only in falsehoods is worse than following blind leaders; fake news comes as a choice from politicians who choose to deceive whereas blind leaders are not in control of the circumstances around them. This may explain why most of the elected officials are the results of faking the system. Fake news is beyond negative campaign or character assassination of opponents.
Now, an army without the correct information is doomed to failure and defeat. The battle confronting every nation in 2017 demands adequate information, planning and correct weapons. To defeat and destroy disease, hunger, poverty, lack of accommodation in our population, all social ills and inequalities, taking informed decision is a first step. We would no longer campaign that our politicians change their false characters, most of who came to power from fake news, but that we individually change from accepting fake news. Run far away from politicians who aren’t prepared to face the truth and the real facts.
We probably need to distinguish between categories of fake news. The first category to deal with can be classified as deliberate lies, using fabricated or fraudulent data to run down the opponents. Unintentional lies are also lies brought about by laziness, inadequate research work and inpatient by rushing to publish falsehoods. The more difficult category is in the realm of difference in beliefs, social lifestyles. For example the so called climatic change may actually be fake on us by the big money bags in the world, to create another avenue for them and making them look as if they care and donating to a good course. Similarly the same-sex marriage is another sense of failure in the society which may eventually legalise marrying just anything including parents marrying their children, human beings joining themselves to other animal kinds, etc. This also is running away from reality and therefore real fake. Dinying some incidences and beliefs like the virgin birth of Jesus, his Messiahship, his death and resurrection, his return, all his mission and purpose may be rolled in this second category.
The third category can be classified as the “Post-Truth” era prevailing in this 21st century. That is the world is in a state of affairs when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This is a dangerous state of affairs in our world today when most people prefer to follow and swallow false and fake news rather than the objective facts. This is prevailing in campaigning politics, advertising and general approach to selling opinions. The world may have left the era of telling or following the truth. Therefore fake news has come to symbolise the post-truth society we now live. This is sadly an era we can’t seem to agree on basic facts or even agree that there are such things as common facts. The society is ready to hire lorry loads of legal professionals to argue their cases. This is the post-truth era, an era when knowing the truth about a case is not as important as arguing a case “successfully”.
Knowing that the fake news problem will continue to grow how may we combat the menace? We may choose the “doing nothing” option, or to hire more research fellows and equip them with more sophisticated computers, or take legal action. But we equally know that beneficiaries of fake news will always work to prevent effective checks on fake news. In a few cases where individuals have sought legal redress only a few of those few made fortunes from the court. It is only an insignificant proportion that has been successfully prosecuted to favour victims. Victims are always the victims at all levels; receiving the falsehoods, negative and abusive news, having to pay so much pursuing a legal redress for unnecessary cases forced on them by carriers of fake news, or losing the cases still. The effects of fake news have caused the enthronement of fake politicians and raised falsely celebrities that should have lived all their lives behind bar. Generations living in the post-truth era may have to reconsider their plights and the consequences of not dealing on real issues but preferring to be deceived.
Prof R. A. Ipinyomi