What is “Fake News”?

The term “fake news” is probably most synonymous with the current president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. It is very well documented that he refers to the media that does not hold his particular views as fake news. That, as entertaining as it may be to cover, is not what I am talking about in this post.

What I am referring to, however, are the articles that people share on social media that are designed to mislead and cause unnecessary panic. You know, the completely made up articles with alarming headlines that you can only find on the particular site that it is hosted and absolutely nowhere else. The articles that your very conservative uncle shares via his Facebook account and points to as the reason why the country is “going to shit”. Yes, those ones.

Unsubstantiated news articles are becoming more and more popular due to the ease of creation and the public’s increased reliability on news received from social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Once you have discovered that the story is fabricated, they have already had you on their site, and each click to their site provides them with more opportunities to attract advertisers – that is how they make their money. As revolutionary as social media has been for this generation, there have been many downsides too. We as humans tend to trust those whom we surround ourselves with. The space in which we socialise has become more online than ever before, so in order to be “around” people we do not have to leave the house. Our friends are now just a click away and we can discuss whatever we want by sharing content and thoughts. So, when someone that you trust shares an article, blog post or something similar you are more likely to accept that as fact than if it were a complete stranger sending you the same information. The chance of you going to Google to verify the source decreases and the chance of you sharing said content increases. The same process then happens with someone that trusts you and the cycle continues. The result is then that, based on a reaction of disgust intrigue, shock or any other similar feeling, content that has not been verified as fact gets shared hundreds, if not thousands or even millions of times. The danger is that it causes unnecessary panic and division and takes attention away from real issues that plague us on a day to day basis.

One such story that did the rounds recently was from a notorious site, well known for providing an “interesting” take on what happens in reality, Msanzi Live. The story claimed that the man recently implicated in a viral video for his violent reaction at a Spur had been shot by members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). They went on to say that they that the woman in the same viral video is yet to be charged.

This particular story got me thinking about what the consequences of these posts are for people that write real news stories, satire writers or bloggers that simply want to get their points across. Let’s be clear: there is a vast difference between satire and fake news. Satire exists to poke fun at the status quo, generally though humorous content. ZA News is one such site that does this particular style of content extremely well. While you are aware that what they are writing is not entirely true, they cleverly use (often exaggerated) mannerisms and features of their subjects along with ridiculous story lines that could be associated with the subject in an exaggerated fashion. Fake news is designed to mimic news sites but is pure fabrication usually designed to get a reaction out of the reader.

As long as there is money to be made, these types of websites will not disappear any time soon. Whether or not these stories are fabricated for political reasons I would not be able to tell you with absolute certainty. What I do know, however, is that despite the constant spelling errors, atrocious grammar and smutty advertisements, these sites are here to stay. The onus is on us as the consumer to figure out what is real and what is fake. An easy way to do this is to Google the subject of the story and check whether the story features on more than one trusted site or publication. There are many other ways to distinguish whether a story is legitimate or not but I’ll let you Google that for practice.

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