Fake News and Conspiracy Theories In the Face of COVID 19

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Navigating the internet is a breathtaking experience. What with the screaming headlines, expert columns, miracle cuisines, and conspiracies. The sample headlines are a cocktail to toast to: ‘Best Food to Heal COVID 19,’ Israel Invents Vaccine for Coronavirus,’ ‘China Admits to Manufacturing COVID 19 to Spite US Over 5G,’ ‘Italy Warns of Infected Face masks from China,’ ‘Tea leaves for Healing Coronavirus,’ e.t.c. The list is endless.  

The danger of fake news to the average consumer of internet news is, not the bewildering velocity and enormity but, in the ability, or lack thereof, to discern the fake from the real. The effects, needless to say, can be profound. The impact of fake news has long pervaded, with research indicating that fake news contributes to worsening disease outbreaks. The advent and growth of the internet brought a new dimension to fake news. While to the experienced eye, it is easier to skip the clicks, many internet users end up swallowing line, hook, and sinker.

Of the estimated 2.4 billion users of the internet, nearly two-thirds receive breaking news from social media, which include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. Whereas social media channels account for over forty percent of fake news, mainstream media has not provided the authority and credible alternative. Traditional media, going by the standards set by their social media handles, has acted catch-up. Indeed the mainstream media-run social media handles are driven by the sort of sensationalism characteristic of grapevine and gossip pieces that serve to increase the traffic through click-baiting.    

There is a famous Turkish saying that the candle of someone who lies almost always burns just to midnight. After his candle goes out, nobody gives him any light. He remains without light.

It would serve fake news propagators well if the audiences are empowered to avoid falling prey to the click baits. This, considering the aggressiveness, enormity, and velocity of fake news is, however, easier said than done. A better approach would empower advertisers so that they could have greater control of determining where their ads are served. The latter would enable advertisers to reward purveyors of truth by advertising on their platforms.

The advertiser empowerment model runs contrary to the audience-driven model. The latter seeks to drive ads to higher traffic sites while the former seeks to empower credible sites and in the process empowering credibility. This has the potential to increase the potency of credible news and saving lives. News firms that seek the audience-driven approach seek to flood their sites with clickable headlines and links while the advertiser empowerment model seeks to give more control to the advertiser regarding where the ad is to be served.

In a free market, however, the forces of demand and supply reign supreme. The best alternative then would be a model that involves of empowerment of audiences by making them able to discern fake news from credible news. Social Media companies have designed verification systems where verified accounts are assigned to credible sources. Perhaps the verification model can be extended to other platforms to enhance the visibility and utility of credible sources.  



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