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Infoxication

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With Lorraine Lusinje:

I read something interesting in the New York Times a few days ago.

Reining in disinformation mills on Facebook

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The Western Journal, a site founded by an American political provocateur, used a steady stream of misleading headlines and sensationalised stories to become one of the most popular and influential publications in America, shaping the political beliefs of more than 36 million deeply loyal readers and followers.

Now the publication is battling the very technology firms that enabled its rise. Its Facebook traffic has declined sharply, after an accumulation of “false” ratings from fact-checking websites made it less likely to appear in users’ feeds. Google News blacklisted the publication last year. Apple News followed suit in June.

Another excerpt from the same article said:

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The publication does almost no original reporting, instead repackaging stories found elsewhere that fit into right-wing narratives chosen by the site’s editors. After an editor finds a worthy story, it is handed off to a pool of contract writers, most working remotely. Deadlines are tight: Most articles are filed within an hour or two, and some breaking-news stories are written in as little as 30 minutes.

It was a model that worked strikingly well — for a while. In the three years ending in March, Western Journal posts on Facebook earned three-quarters of a billion shares, likes and comments, nearly as many as the combined tally of 10 leading American news organisations.

Key phrases

The use of two key phrases “no original reporting” and “repackaging stories (that fit into a particular narrative)”; clearly depicts what has become the trend in news and information on digital media nowadays.

Era of fake news: beware

One of the greatest challenges of modern-age communication and governance is fake news. It is becoming close to a parasite in society. Instant news and communication is good but it comes with responsibilities and downsides. With the rise of digital communication, everyone has become a gatekeeper nowadays as long as they have a gadget and data and can scribble something, be it comprehensive or not.

What is becoming increasingly worrisome is how much people are taking fake news into account without conducting some bare minimum due diligence. Always verify news using credible sources. In Malawi, we have Nation Publication Limited, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Times Media Group, Capital FM, Joy Group, Zodiak Broadcasting Station as some of the credible sources of online, radio, print, and TV news. For international news, British Broadcasting Corporation and Cable News Network are usually top of the list.

Just because someone wrote it on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter does not mean it is true. Propaganda is real and everyone has an agenda to push. We all have biases and we like the news better when it appeals to our biases in its narrative; that does not make it factual. It is imperative to separate fake news from factual ‘originally reported’ and verifiable news to avoid making decisions based on the wrong information. Unfortunately people are making important decisions based on fake or misguided news posted somewhere on social media and specially repackaged to advance a particular agenda or suit a specific narrative.

Infoxication

The digital era provides a wide stream of constantly flowing information available at our fingertips 24/7/365. There is something called infoxication, which literally means intoxication from information. Essentially, is means the difficulty in understanding an issue and effectively making decisions when one has too much information about that issue, a more common term being information overload.

Now, in modern age, we are not failing to understand one issue because of too much data on that one issue; we are failing to understand too many issues because of too much data on too many issues. And just like with fake news, which is a component of the information overload, we need to be diligent in how we handle information available to us.

First of all, be selective of what you choose to see on your social media stream and what you feed your mind anywhere on and off social media. Secondly, recognise that every social media site can be used productively or for trivia or for propaganda. Thirdly, the majority of informal social media pages and groups cause unnecessary anxiety that you can actually live without. Lastly, practice discernment and verify every time a piece of news and information comes your way.

I rest my case.

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