Fake News: Who Stands To Benefit From The Consensus? – By Mpho (MrSir) Matlhabegoane

Fake News: Who Stands To Benefit From The Consensus?

By: Mpho (MrSir) Matlhabegoane

During one of the Journalism classes at the University of Witwatersrand, our lecturer, Pheladi Sethusa, introduced the concept of Fake News in a way that, to this day, got me concerned about the average citizen who may not know the detrimental ramifications of consuming false information. This is what she said about fake news: “The term is inadequate to capture the complex problem of forged information blended with facts. The term is also misleading, because it has been appropriated by individuals to dismiss coverage that they find disagreeable.” Both the dissemination and the consumption of fake news are deemed problematic, but to cut the Gordian knot, one must first scrutinize and grasp the concept to the bone.

Using the Ethical Journalism Network’s definition of fake news, Pheladi Sethusa went on to say, “To narrow it down, fake news is information deliberately fabricated and published with the intention to deceive and mislead others into believing falsehoods or doubting verifiable facts.” She highlighted that it is important to be more specific when defining different terms and the scope of what each term seeks to address, since “fake news” encompasses a spectrum of information types. The types of information she referred to vary from relatively low-risk forms (like honest mistakes made by journalists and usage of clickbait headlines) to high-risk forms (like domestic groups that would attempt to undermine political processes through the use of different forms of malicious forgeries).

Various other terms, in more specificity, that may subtly represent fake news could be presented in the following spectrum of their differences: misinformation (false connection and misleading content), disinformation (false context, imposter content, manipulated content and fabricated content) and Malinformation (some leaks, some harassment and some hate speech). While misinformation represents falsehood, and malinformation represents intent to harm, disinformation is an intersection of both – it represents both falsehood and intent to harm. Therefore, when you are misinformed, disinformed and/or malinformed, you are fed fake news in different forms.

One of the good examples to use when exploring the potential repercussions of being the subject of fake news is a News24 article written on the 4th of July, 2021, by Londiwe Buthelez, titled “Fact Check: No, Mugg & Bean isn’t closing.” It was during the peak of Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdowns that the ANC Ekurhuleni Regional Chairperson Mzwandile Masina penned to over 215 000 of his followers that Mugg & Bean SA had announced that it is permanently closing shop. Fearing the financial strain the post would have on the company, Mugg & Bean released an official statement on their Twitter page, reaffirming their customers that the food is still available and their employees that they still have their jobs, by posting, “We are aware of fake news doing the rounds. Mugg & Bean is not closing. While sit-down dining is not currently allowed, the majority of restaurants remain open to bring you your favourite M&B meals via delivery, collection and takeaway.” When false information is published or spread about you or your brand, and it hits your radar, you have the responsibility to rectify it based on the probable damage the content may have on you or your brand.

As a consumer of fake news, you are most likely to make decisions based on wrong information. Imagine being told that your spouse cheated, and believing it without verifying the information only to divorce an innocent other half. If you do not end up firing an innocent employee, you may end up not voting for the right party, because your sources of information were rather pushing agendas with fake news than providing you with true dignified information. Our decisions rely on what we know so far, and if what you know is false, then you are prone to making bad decisions. So, fake news in all its spectrums does more harm than good to readers, listeners, streamers, etc.

To avoid being victimized by fake news, you may consider the following: credibility of the source, credibility of the author, date of publication, your biases towards the theme and who the sponsor of the publication is, before adhering to the content, before sharing the content and before making a decision based on the content. Since holding sway over being the victim of fake news through being the subject is like herding cats, it is best to ensure that you are not duped as a consumer. Fake News is manipulation, which is a type of mind control. Always be mindful of what you consume, and always ask yourself this question when information is presented to you: Who stands to benefit from the consensus?

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About the author:

Mpho (MrSir) Matlhabegoane is one of the A! Hub Writers. He became an Activator in 2019, and through Activate! Change Drivers, he underwent educational training with Programmes such as SWITCH Entrepreneurship Programme, National Mentorship Movement with Printing SA and Citizen Journalism with The University of Witwatersrand (Wits). He is a Mental Health Awareness Advocate, and to spread mental health awareness, he published three books that have been accepted by Gauteng Department of Education as of 2023, namely: The Story of MrSir (Word For The Record), Expanding The World Of Nerds, and Views and Emotions (Poetry Journal of MrSir).

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