Spoiler Alert: This is fake news. But read on - I have some ideas to make it Real.
If you have some kind of a digital footprint you are at the node of a highly interconnected information network. The fact that you are reading this article, almost certainly on a digital device, is by itself a confirmation that you are very much a part of that network.
We have all undoubtedly experienced the benefits of such connectivity. However, as we increasingly realize, this comes at a price. Amongst other things, exposure to “fake news” and its consequences is one price that we pay. And in many cases, the consequences can be deadly and harmful to individuals and society at large.
If you are reasonably active on social media and messaging platforms, you are likely to be increasingly bombarded with multiple communications, which includes a large number of seemingly real but factually incorrect information. These are forwarded by some naïve person within the network (which by the way, is humongous because of the interconnectivity) who has merely been a channel through which the originator of the information has decided to spread their news – most likely for a malicious intent.
I have been contemplating and debating on this issue over the past few months wondering what possible solutions could address such a menace. Of course, we could get off all forms of social media connectivity but that would be akin to throwing the baby with the bath water. After all, I do wish to be informed of “real news” be it through media or other thought leaders. I am also interested in opinions that my social networks may have on various topics.
If I were to map out the various personas in a typical social network platform and the flow of information or messages in the platform it may look something like the below image..
Ignoring corporate entities such as advertisers, I am using the terms Uploader, Forwarder & Receiver to define the three major categories of end-users on a typical social network platform. Needless to say, depending on the degree of participation an individual may actually be switching between these categories several times during their activity on the platform.
Information being uploaded on social platforms can perhaps be broadly classified into the following 3 buckets:
From the Uploader the information gets to the Receiver directly or in many cases through a Forwarder. By default, a Forwarder is also a Receiver. Of course, the Forwarder may sometimes have an opinion or perspective on the subject before channelizing it to their own network.
The root of the fake news problem
News and information that comes to an individual Receiver may be directly from the Uploader, or through a Forwarder.
As a Receiver though, I am clueless where this news originated or if this is actually a harmless ping that may have got distorted over time, a fact, a perspective, speculative news or an outright fake news.
I also have no idea if this is something current or if this was some outdated that is being resurfaced. If I knew answers to these questions, I may truly be better informed and save myself a great deal of time that is wasted on such platforms.
A possible solution
I propose three simple tweaks that Social Network platforms (including messaging platforms) should enforce if they are truly socially conscious and responsible corporate citizens.
The suggested tweaks are relatively simple for platform operators to put in place and could address some serious problems plaguing society today:
Giving Receivers an option to make “informed choices” will ensure that the benefits of social connectivity outweigh the risks
Social Networks are now an integral part of our life and have provided enormous benefit to society and brought people closer to each other. With such rapid growth over the past few years there are bound to be new challenges that surface time and again.
The menace of fake news is one challenge that needs to be nipped in the bud. Social networks have become platforms that take the game of Chinese Whispers and amplifies it many times over, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
The expectation that a platform operator would be in a position to constantly monitor the platform and weed out such news is not realistic. The imposition of increased regulation will also do little to suppress malicious intent of players in the platform.
These tweaks do not in any way impose any restrictions on free speech or suppress an opinion or to come up with a speculative report. This only ensures that individuals do not use the cloak of anonymity to spread factually incorrect information as a truth. This also ensures that Receivers are rightfully given the choice to make their own informed judgement on what they would like to receive and block out sources that they perceive are of no value or just pure distraction.
Overall, we could have a more productive, safer and harmonious society.
Note: This is my opinion and I am willing to stand by it! I value your point of view as well. Keep them coming.
P.S. A few days after this blog I came across this news item that has been widely reported in the press in India. A sad story about how fake whatsapp messages have resulted in people getting killed. This is a serious issue and merits immediate attention. https://thelogicalindian.com/news/fake-whatsapp-messages-of-child-kidnappers/
This blog originally appeared as an article in LinkedIn