We have been overwhelmed with so much information since the rise of the internet, like never before in history. News as it happens, fake news, facts, life stories, conspiracy theories and rumours every second of the day.
Fake news affects our lives negatively – because it is usually terrible news. Trained journalists covered stories before the internet and verified information to the best of their ability. Nowadays, anyone can write anything and post it. Reports can be made up or twisted, and photos altered. True or untrue, a story spreads worldwide faster than you can put your socks on.
“Social media allows you to reach virtually anyone and to play with their minds.” -Uzi Shaya, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer.
Information warfare is as ancient as warfare itself.
In his book “The Art of War” (5th century BC.), all warfare is based on deception. The general belief of “You can do whatever you want. You can be whoever you want” on the internet has let disinformation as a tool of persuasion and weapon of influence reach new heights.
The news is anxiety-producing, depressing, and mostly useless as it is repetitive and does not affect our lives. Yet, we become addicted to it. Most news shows are designed to create worry and typically offer no solutions to get hooked, waiting for an answer or a good outcome. We tend to crave news because we feel empty and anxious without it.
How we react to the news – whether false or genuine, indicates we are unconsciously susceptible to influence and manipulation, often by unscrupulous persons who intend to sow chaos. Spreading false messages to control what people believe and how they behave—in ways they would not otherwise—for example, xenophobic rumours in South Africa.
People are influenced easily by the spread of false rumours into believing that foreigners are why South African citizens are poor and unemployed. South Africans accuse immigrants of taking jobs, bringing drugs, and sexually abusing women. The aftermath of these rumours is waves of violence that swept through communities where people are threatened, killed, and shops looted and burnt. The fake news ignores the reality of a government that steadily pillaged our country’s resources during the past 25 years that should have been used for job creation and development. It means that we as a people are vulnerable to manipulation in ways that we are just beginning to appreciate fully.
Do not presume news events do not affect you. Being constantly exposed to bad news makes you sick. People watching these traumatic events on the media experience shock, isolation, depression, anxiety and stress. With the never-ending news onslaught, returning to a calm, relaxed state becomes difficult. It leaves us in constant fight or flight mode. It may stem from a primitive behavioural instinct that humans have, called surveillance gratification-seeking. You need to know whether you are safe or not. But the constant bombardment with bad news harms us.
Boldfish describes the following symptoms as effects news has on us:
Complacency – similar to our brain’s ability to erase from consciousness stimuli that we are constantly subjected to, a constant dose of negativity could lead us to “get used” to it, which was becoming the new norm.
Paralysis/Helplessness – a constant bombardment of negativity can lead to feelings of Helplessness and an inability to figure out what to do next.
Constant Feeling of Crisis – it can get your mind to enter a continuous state of “crisis mode” where you are trapped in a cycle of negativity, and every moment could mean the end of the world.
Depression – negative news can trigger negative emotions, but being constantly subjected to it could lead to depression and other mental health disorders.
How to regain control over an “I have to watch the news” compulsion.
- Consider whether the news is that important to you; does it affect your life? Become aware of the feelings it awakens in you. Does it leave you happier or more stressed?
- Limit the time you watch or read the news. Decide on a specific time per day to watch the news.
- Switch off all notifications that alert you to news coming in. Remove yourself from social media that bombards you with news stories, or mute it.
- Instead, choose one trustworthy news-feed source instead of subscribing to several sources. One source that provides you with headlines once a day will keep you informed of news events.
- Find new healthier ways to spend your time creative, calming or entertaining – read a book, watch a movie, play board games, and do gardening.
- Try and steer clear of fake news, which only tends to draw strong emotions in you.
How to determine what is fake and what is real:
- Read with a critical eye. Why was it written? To shock, to anger, or to get a response from you?
- Check the source: Where did it originate from? Legitimate websites end with “.co.za; .com;.org.za”. Strange-sounding URLs that end in extensions like “.infonet” and “.offer” are usually fake websites.
- Is any other credible news agency reporting on the same story?
- Is the image used fake or real?
- What is the date of the original story? People sometimes use old news to upset them again years later.
- Use your common sense. Does it sound possible or far-fetched?
You know that many fake stories are posted daily – don’t share if you haven’t ensured it is legit. Criminal charges and civil claims could be laid against people who disseminated fake news that caused harm.
“If you share fake news stories online, you could face criminal charges.”
Social media expert Emma Sadleir said in the present “post-truth era”, people needed to be held responsible for what they disseminated online. “All the same laws still apply to social media.”
Online content should always be carefully examined before it is shared because the person who shared harmful or offensive content would be held responsible for it. “You can disassociate yourself from the news by sharing it and saying, ‘I can’t believe this is being shared.'”
Africa Check has listed fake news websites in South Africa you should avoid:
- African News Updates
- Live Monitor
- Mzansi LIVE
- Mzansi Stories
- Gossip Mill Mzansi
- South Africa’s Latest News