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Fake news dangerous and getting harder to stop

Fake reports of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s death circulated online earlier this year.

Fake reports of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s death circulated online earlier this year.

Published Dec 11, 2016

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Durban - The internet is a breeding ground for radical ideologies and bizarre conspiracy theories and can quickly move troubled souls to violence.

And in an age when fake news is magnified by those with political and financial interests, the problem is getting harder to stop, the Washington Post said in an article this week.

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Media Monitoring Africa agreed, saying fake websites in South Africa were becoming a serious problem.

“It has become difficult for readers to differentiate between what’s legitimate and what’s fake. All we can advise is for people to think before they click the share button,” said Media Monitoring’s William Bird.

He said people should check whether the story came from a reputable website or look at the URL.

An example in September was when a fake news site claimed Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu had died, said Bird.

Around the same time, there were also reports that Thabo Mbeki had died.

The South African National Editors’ Forum said inaccurate reports by websites masquerading as credible news sources were dangerous and did a great disservice to legitimate news websites and the media industry.

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This week, Pope Francis warned against the danger of spreading false information and half truths under the guise of news. In an interview with a Belgian Catholic publication he said to create scandal was like “having an obsession with faeces”.

The pope said the legitimate media had a “great responsibility” not to spread disinformation.

The Washington Post said the condemnation of these sites came as politicians, the media and technology industries have become worried that fake news and propaganda on social media could have unduly influenced the US presidential election.

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The Russian government, for example, reportedly tried to spread false material online to affect the election. FBI boss James Comey was quoted saying he was concerned Twitter in particular allowed people to reinforce their own views, irrespective of facts, and that this eroded trust in government institutions.

Sunday Tribune

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