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Fake news and what you can do about it

by Robin Low

The term “Fake News” is of great concern for many governments around the world. And why is there such a fake news problem, and do we fall for fake news?

Cognitive dissonance is one of the main reasons why people fall for fake news. The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feelings of discomfort that result from holding two conflicting beliefs.

In the case of Singapore, when a report of a roof collapse at the Housing and Development Board project Punggol Waterway Terraces, with a photo of the upper storeys in a crumbled state, many people are unhappy about high HDB prices, and the use of cheap foreign labor and lowest tender to get the job done, but they also feel bad that such a tragedy would happen. Even I choose to believe this incident, and I felt like this would get into HDB and the government into trouble for using cheap foreign labor and the lowest bid tender. When I believed in this and complain about it, my conflict is resolved – it fits my narrative that such a tragedy would happen, like the MRT breakdowns, and deaths of the MRT service crew due to negligence.

In a society with many inequalities, and not a high amount of trust, fake news divides us further. Today, it is very difficult for me to tell if the information I receive is 100% accurate and reliable. I can easily read fake news on both sides. On one hand, the Government Controlled Media keeps talking about criminal offences and governance lapses in AHPETC in an article “WP town council flagged for potential criminal offences”, which turns out to have the audit issues resolved in 2018. Much of the news I read on these platforms are simply one-sided story, praising the greatness, but not addressing the issues.

And on the other hand, in 2015, The Real Singapore posted an article on a Pinoy family complaining about Thaipusam, resulting in police commotion with the participants. The source cannot be verified, but many people including me shared the article, and were outraged. There were many other articles out there that could not be verified, but it fell into my narrative and biases, and I am inclined to believe them and share them with my friends to validate my views. For example, there was a recent case about lone woman parking in a family parking lot, getting on video saying she is rich and has 3 cars so she can do what she wants. I’ve personally experienced such behaviors and shared the video, but it turned out that she moved her vehicle later, and did it due to a heated argument with the poster of video, which was omitted in the video.

In some countries, Bots are used to pick up on keywords or hashtags in controversial topics and use computer algorithms to create and spread extreme views that emotionally arouse people.

Networks of bots can spread messages quickly, tricking social media platforms and creating the perception that a topic is trending, when in fact it’s just being posted and retweeted by computers.

If you share articles which you believe in on social media, chances are, you may be sharing fake news. One of the popular fake news often shared is the radiation spreading from Japan after the Tsunami. Every year, the same news purportedly showing radioactive water seeping into the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear plant actually depicts something else.

However, that chart did not actually track or measure radioactive discharge emanating from Fukushima in 2013, or any other aspect of the Fukushima disaster. It was a plot created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration immediately after the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011 showing the wave height of the tsunami that followed. It had (and has) nothing to do with the flow or spread of radioactive seepage from Fukushima.


10 things to do with regards to fake news?

1) Question the source – sometimes when it sounds too good to be true, like any other scam, chances are – it is FAKE. Some websites are satire sites like the Onion, so before you get angry, make sure it is worth getting angry over.

2) Check other media sites (or at least Google News) for confirmation. If no major news picks up the story, there’s probably a reason why. And check with third-party fact-checking sites. Snopes and Politifact usually have responses for common fake news which may be repeated fake news for years.

3) If you know that the news is fake, call out the fake news on your network and let your network know. Share the Truth.

4) Exercise critical thinking. Don’t jump into conclusion and get angry, sad or emotional on everything you read. The nature of news is to amplify the worst because blood and gore sells. A lot of news is blown out of proportion and sensationalize just to increase views. The titles can also be misleading, so read the article before getting enraged, and it is always a good idea to read the article before you share it.

5) Don’t assume the video or photo is real. Many times, it may be taken out of context or it happened in a different country. Many unethical sites like to share unrelated videos or photos to get hits, and in return profit from ads.

6) Recognize your bias. When you are Pro-government, Pro-opposition, Pro-Christian, Pro-Gay rights, you are inclined to agree with information you already believe and to discount information contrary to our beliefs.

7) Spot the bots. Some accounts tweet hundreds of times a day; some are full of typos or grammatical errors, some bots only posts from specific sites. Do they post in multiple languages? These may be tell-tale signs that the person sharing may not be human.

8) Beat the social media algorithm. Platforms show us what they think we want to see. Articles that you have liked, commented on will be more common in your news feeds.

9) Get out of your bubble. Everyone creates their own social media bubble. It is worse today as many people actually get their news from social media sites. It is important to understand why people have different views and it is important to seek information that contradicts what you think. You do not need to believe it or adopt it, but you need to be exposed yourself to it.

10) If you are prone to complain about the government, and view that parts of the government is corrupt, you should double check if the news on other mediums to get the full picture. If it is local news, it may not be hard to contact a friend in the area to see if it actually happened.

Regardless of where the news comes from, there are chances that the news is biased. Exercise caution in believing breaking news, and wait for more information before jumping into conclusion.