The number of followers fake accounts may gain is frightening because we live in a world where schadenfreude has become the order of the day. Picture: www.oxhow.com
The number of followers fake accounts may gain is frightening because we live in a world where schadenfreude has become the order of the day. Picture: www.oxhow.com

It’s time for SA to get real about fake news

By Tasnim Langry Time of article published May 5, 2018

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Opinion - I am always reading politically inclined words from a plethora of media platforms, hoping to be educated, elevated or empowered about government, but these articles sometimes leave me feeling disempowered and painfully disillusioned instead.

So I thought, why not write a political column that will leave me feeling enlightened and perhaps I could share my views with others and spread some light around?

We live in a world where it is child’s play to cause panic in society, since the advent of the internet.

Access to technology is so easy to obtain - today even people in rural areas are online and in touch.

However, what seems to have been disregarded is how dangerous these domains can be for the ultimate mindful consciousness of society.

With this introduction to modern technology, we have, with the touch of a send button, the right to freedom of speech, whether it is biased, researched, or not, through the platform most fondly known as “social media”.

There are terms and conditions written in the agreement at signing-up time - which is more than a thousand words long and mostly skimmed through as we search for the “I Agree” button - but have we chosen to be mindful about what we say via the channels of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc, which we take licence to utilise?

I’ll answer for you: no.

As controlled as the agreement terms call for you to believe you are being when registering, sift through any social-media platform today and you will find various accounts and profiles gaining mass following for causing pandemonium, minus the integrity of being factual in their representation or having a qualified licence to do so.

We can register a number of social media accounts and go haywire with whatever we feel.

Just search for the name “Jacob Zuma” or “politics”, and you will find a variety of different sources of information that mock, incite dissent or, even worse, cause mindless pandemonium among those followers. 

Because it is so easy to create many e-mail accounts and social media ones, who are we to know whether the profile-keeper has good intentions?

It is true that many of the accounts publish well-written status updates in impeccable English, but do they represent the best interests of society or are they hecklers batting for their side regardless of the repercussions?

In the US, we hear of a team of Russians who armed themselves with phones, wi-fi and provocative words who possibly caused a chain reaction in the mindsets of constituents hoping to vote in Hillary Clinton as their first female president.

It was apparently a band of just over a dozen people with a few dozen phones and their involvement is said to have caused such a dent, that a celebrity is now their president who himself uses Twitter willy-nilly to infamously throw tirades at people high-profiled and not so.

More frightening is the amount of followers that fake accounts may gain because we live in a world where schadenfreude has become the order of the day.

Have we lost our integrity in allowing people to prove themselves according to procedure and processes? 

I will say yes, because it has become a norm to throw stones rather than wait for the bricks to dry and cement a foundation for change.

Today anybody can cause a riot by typing in the right words to cause mayhem and attract like-minded individuals. 

People hiding behind these provocative profile names incite anger in people and play with their emotions through generic pictures, memes, videos and smart quotes, which unqualified followers may assume is the norm to gain education.

I say “unqualified” because not everybody using a phone has psyched themselves into understanding the difference between real and fake news.

It is possible for any individual with wi-fi access, a computer and some guts to create a news-related website and call it a media publication.

Everyone uses their smartphones to access sites labelling themselves “news media” or “activists for change” even if that is not the true intention. 

We must take into account that people have more access to social media access to well-researched articles occurs only if they have bought a copy of the publication.

I chose to write this column and engage an audience of readers, who also use smartphones for social media, by bringing to their attention that they have to consider that we are being overwhelmed, and to advise their children about it, too. 

Overwhelmed because we have too much access to much opinion which we may not understand is not filtered.

Photoshop has a filter for all our ugly marks to disappear, but our minds do not have one included to remove biased opinion unless it is consciously visualised and you create that filter for your own well-being.

Even the swearing-in of President Cyril Ramaphosa was short-lived. 

As soon as the balloons deflated, we found social media trolls hanging on the bandwagon using search engine optimisation methods and hashtags to spread negativity and false hope.

Now, fault finding in his credibility has begun, starting with the State of the Nation address.

Earlier on, I used the word schadenfruede in relating a thought because I feel we are living in a world where too many people have become fond of saying they have black souls and enjoy using words such as sadistic and masochistic to describe themselves.

Understand that we have involuntarily been desensitised after watching too many Vampire series where losing your compassion is the way to enjoy the dark side a little.

Let me end by using an evolutionary statement I’ve kept as a motto to myself “The buck stops here”.

We must be mindful that we are not Simon Cowell critiquing a show of wannabe celebrities this is real life and we must take cognisance of the fact that respect for authority has diminished drastically.

I advise you to visualise, then create that filter in your mind from now on so that you can actually enjoy the fact we do live in a democracy which is the envy of the world nothing about that has changed opinion, willy-nilly, however, has just disenfranchised our minds dismally and often most times, involuntarily.

* Tasnim Langry is a former journalist and now a full-time mother, student and creative writer.

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