Fake news is a term that was made popular by President Donald Trump when news sites like CNN and Newspapers like New York Times started publishing news about him, which he thought was untrue, upon being elected into office in 2016.
Whoever said ‘No Press is Bad Press' was not born in this era of social media and fake news, clearly.
Fake News is described as made-up news sprinkled with a few facts that is published mostly by accounts or websites with hidden agendas and aims at tarnishing or creating a bias against the good name of a person, company or country. Most times this news is spread over media that is not regulated and has the ability to spread quite fast because it has been serialised, appears factual (when it is not) and easily appeals to the emotions of the moment.
However, there is a more dangerous version of ‘fake news' and these are made up of videos promptly referred to as ‘Deep Fake'. They are created using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology or what is called machine learning.
This technology is deployed in computers and devices like phones and it empowers them to emulate the human mind, learning the context in which words are typed and spoken. Being able to contextualize how the human mind works, thinks and perceives things has made it possible for these machines to predict and emulate what you and I are thinking and are likely to say next.
This is the same technology robots are using and taking over the world in different fields like manufacturing and medicine.
With deep fake, therefore, all has been armed with the ability to overlay words spoken by an individual onto a video of another person and make it seem like the person in the video is speaking those words. Imagine someone moving their lips in a certain way, forming words and the audio matches those words, wouldn't you actually believe them?
Watch this video and see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmUC4m6w1wo
With the advent of social media sites like Facebook, WhatsApp and twitter, fake news seems to have found a home within the very gullible audience with itchy fingers, ready to tag and forward, regardless of the repercussions.
The main motivation of fake news agents is to misinform, demotivate and destabilise. And unfortunately even here in Uganda, so many individuals and companies have fallen prey and some known ones have hired fake news generators to create conversations against their perceived enemies or competitors, you just have to look at the increasing number of court cases in that direction.
The effect of fake news is that the image of the target, who may be a person or organization, is totally tarnished in seconds within the society they live or operate, and they end up having to spend so much time and money trying to clean up their image. With people that largely live and work online, it is very hard to explain to anyone when the damage is done, and it is quite an expensive and uphill task trying to clean up the mess.
Worst case scenario, fake news can start riots and wars. That is why many governments are increasingly banning social media sites during tumultuous times and upheavals.
How can you spot Fake News?
- - It is written using lousy grammar and wording
- - The headlines are usually screaming for attention
- - The source is usually doubtable and unverifiable
- - The writers hide behind fake names (pseudo accounts) and pop up blogs
What can you do about it?
- - Verify the news- visit various credible news websites to see if they reported about the news in question. If it is not quoted by a serious source, treat it as FAKE NEWS.
- - If the user account looks fake, it is probably fake. So pay attention to the author's account and verify if they have any other serious activity.
- - Read beyond the headlines. There is usually nothing worthwhile beyond the headlines, and the stories usually have incoherent news and grammatical errors.
- - If you receive a message on WhatsApp, go the distance and ask the sender if they are sure about what they say. If you keep forwarding things you receive, you become the source therefore and you can easily be arrested or sued for alleging things you are not sure about.
(Written By Emmanuel Cliff Muganhwa: Systems Auditor and Cybersecurity enthusiast)