There has been a remarkable upsurge in the reach of journalism, social media, and public engagement, through digital sources in the recent 20 years.
Every minute of every day, our planet now pulses with trillions of digital social signals, bombarding us with streams of status updates, news stories, tweets, pokes, posts, referrals, advertisements, notifications, shares, check-ins, and ratings from peers in our social networks, news media, advertisers, and the crowd. (Aral, p. 20)
As of 2017, 93 percent of Americans say they receive news online. (Pew, August 7, 2017)
While social media delivered lifesaving information and provided human connection at a time of forced social distancing, misinformation and hoax cures also spread around the world, hindering public health efforts to contain the pandemic. (Aral, p. 210)
There is an overwhelming amount of disinformation and misinformation that is spread on the internet; it is blown out mainly via Websites, Social Networks, and Email. Research shows that false rumors truly do travel faster and further than the truth. Social media are overwhelmed with misinformation or false narratives that intentionally try to deceive the reader.
Why One Spread fake News?:
The major reason for the spreading of fake news is Cognitive Dissonance. Psychologist Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory proposes that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behavior in harmony and avoid disharmony or dissonance. When there is a contradiction between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. For example, when a person smoke, she knows that smoking causes so many problems including cancer (cognition); she is in a state of cognitive dissonance. To her, to quit smoking is often very difficult, so she employ variety of mental maneuvers. This is a type of cognitive dissonance.
Human psychology has a temptation for confirmation bias: we tend to reiterate which is supportive of our own prejudice. As such, we are all vulnerable to misinformation in the first place. A confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves favoring information that confirms one’s previously existing beliefs or biases.
Another reason is that it is strongly tempting to blame someone else for an unsatisfactory life and one’s own failures; it is much easier to blame those who are even worse off than oneself through blame; they are easily defined as parasitic, unethical, and a burden on the rest of the population. This accusation might increase one’s own ego which they cherish much.
Why an Editorial Eye is Significant?:
Journalists risk being manipulated by actors who go beyond the ethics of public relations by attempting to mislead or corrupt journalists into spreading disinformation; journalists as communicators who work in the service of truth, including “inconvenient truths”, can find themselves becoming a target of lies, rumors and hoaxes designed to intimidate and discredit them and their journalism, especially when their work threatens to expose those who are commissioning or committing disinformation. (UNESCO, p. 9) It is a time for news media to adopt media ethics, to eschew the publishing of unchecked information.
Editorial Eye is the quality of a good editor to critically evaluate the veracity and authenticity of a text submitted to him. As disinformation and hoaxes that are popularly referred to as “fake news” are accelerating and affecting the way individuals interpret daily developments. Naturally, there has been a precipitous decline in public trust in traditional journalism. In order to regain the lost faith an editor should be very much cautious against publishing misinformation.
A good editor has strong writing skill, and many start out as writer or reporter and may continue to write in the editing position. Editors also need good judgment to decide what stories should run, and sound leadership abilities to guide reporters, writers and junior editors in their work. Editors must also verify facts and determine if a manuscript or article is ready for publication, then approve final versions. The aim of editing is ‘to remove any obstacles between the reader and what the [writer] wants to convey’ (Butcher, p. 2) Every people who have a civic sense need to have an editorial eye, that sixth sense, that expertise to make that story as error-free as possible before submitting to any publisher or propagate through social media.
Types of Fake News:
False information has the feature of spreading faster than the truth, misdirecting real behaviors with real impact. Such fake news can have dramatic consequences for businesses, democracies, and public health. And although it has been around for centuries, the speed and scale with which it spreads through the Hype Machine creates a fake news crisis on steroids. (Aral, p.29)
Fake news stories are usually disseminated quickly through false accounts, or automated “bots.” Most bots are benevolent in nature, and some major sites like Facebook ban bots and seek to remove them, but there are social bots that are “malicious entities designed specifically with the purpose to harm. These bots mislead, exploit, and manipulate social media discourse with rumors, spam, malware, misinformation, slander, or even just noise.” (Ferrara, 2016]
Misleading humans is the ultimate goal of any misinformation campaign. It’s humans who vote, protest, boycott products, and decide whether to vaccinate their kids. These deeply human decisions are the very object of fake news manipulation. Bots are just a vehicle to achieve an end. (Aral, p. 46)
The key terms related to fake news are three: Disinformation, Misinformation, Deepfake.
Disinformation is fake or inaccurate information that is intentionally spread to mislead and/or deceive. Misinformation is false content shared by a person who does not realize it is false or misleading. (Shu, p.2)
Misinformation is perhaps the most innocent of the terms – it is misleading information created or shared without the intent to manipulate people. An example would be sharing a rumor that a celebrity died, before finding out it is false.
Deepfakes are mainly used to refer to videos that have been edited using an algorithm to replace the person in the original video with someone else in a way that makes the video look authentic. Deepfakes are a new and particularly challenging type of audio, video, or image disinformation, generally used in malicious ways.
War has been imposed using Disinformation Technique:
In order to invade Iraq in 2003, US President Bush Jr. told the lie about the possession of WMDs; he added that Saddam Hussein “trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda.” He further accused that Saddam-supplied terrorist with lethal weapon that can potentially “kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country.” The calamity that followed cost over a hundred-thousand lives just in Iraq and drained north of $2 trillion from the budget. The news media appropriately caught a huge chunk of the blame.
The invasion of Iraq was justified to the American people by a sophisticated propaganda campaign that reflected a think tank’s vision for a new foreign policy. The rationale for the invasion was developed as a “public conspiracy” over a decade by the members of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). On March 20, 2003, the US invaded Iraq. President Bush justified this preemptive strike against a sovereign nation by repeatedly claiming through the national press and several press conferences that Saddam Hussein was implicated in the 9/11 attacks on the US, had not complied with UN requirements about weapons inspections, and still harbored numerous weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that he planned to use against the US as well as deliver to terrorists. Subsequent reports would show that the White House claims about each of these points were wrong. Counterclaims by others, including U.S. senators, were dismissed by the White House, and received little press or broadcast attention. (Altheide, p. 617–643)
There was very little reporting by major news media about contrary views cautioning that this attack was not necessary at that time, that weapons inspectors had not found such weapons, and needed more time to work, and that sanctions already in place were working (the search for WMD officially ended on January 12, 2005). Nor was there much reporting about other claims that the aftermath of the war would be difficult, could cost billions of dollars and require U.S. military presence for many years.
Social Consequences of the Spread of Misinformation:
A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, or so the saying goes, and new research has sought to prove just how long it takes fact checking to catch up. On average, it takes more than 12 hours for a false claim to be debunked online, according to two recent projects that compared how falsehoods and truths spread. One study analyzed rumors on Twitter and found that a rumor that turns out to be true is often resolved within two hours of first emerging. But a rumor that proves false takes closer to 14 hours to be debunked. (Zubiaga, 2016)
We are often unable to see the whole picture and so make decisions that are based on a small part of the relevant total.
From an early age children are exposed to a world full of questionable information and inconsistencies. By the time children can read competently, they are bombarded with pressurized advertising, unsupported or misleading reporting, and social media which can play on their emotions and self- esteem. The sooner they are helped to approach some of this material with a critical eye the better they will be able to make independent judgments and resist undue persuasion as they grow up. The critical approach once established will remain with them for life, and will develop as their knowledge and horizons widen. This book attempts to give children the basic tools to challenge some of the conflicting information which they may encounter in everyday life. (Delamain, p.1)
Perhaps the most common myths assumed an inherent superiority of some nationalities, races, colors, ethnic groups, social classes, or gender. As a result of such misconceptions minorities can exploit majorities: Indian upper castes are exploiting this type of belief. A related mistake attributes obnoxious traits to groups to rationalize discrimination against them. So it is alleged that women are superficial in their thinking and understanding. Mistakes are most often biased against some groups, especially the poor and the relatively powerless.
According to David Lazer, “such situations can enable discriminatory and inflammatory ideas to enter public discourse and be treated as fact. Once embedded, such ideas can in turn be used to create scapegoats, to normalize prejudices, to harden us-versus-them mentalities and even, in extreme cases, to catalyze and justify violence.” (Lazer, p. 5)
The 21st century has seen the weaponization of information on an unprecedented scale. Powerful new technology makes the manipulation and fabrication of content simple, and social networks dramatically amplify falsehoods peddled by States, populist politicians, and dishonest corporate entities, as they are shared by uncritical publics. The platforms have become fertile ground for computational propaganda9, ‘trolling’ and ‘troll armies’; ‘sock-puppet’ networks’, and ‘spoofers’. Then, there is the arrival of profiteering ‘troll farms’ around elections. (UNESCO, p.15) Losing of the Big Picture will result in the carrying with the propagandist machinations and people will become tools in the hands of the powerful vested interests.
Ruling political party and its supporters gain much to evoke the issue of national security. It is a symbol that generates fear of enemies of the state. Such anxieties can easily be directed against any domestic group that is labeled as a threat; worries about national security are constantly evoked.
Critical Thinking Skill to Combat Misinformation:
We usually assume that Homo sapiens are basically rational; on the contrary, rationality is often used to substantiate our subconscious mind.
Critical thinking is examining and analyzing knowledge in an authentic way. We should acquire the ability to go beyond the belief system which we cherish to subscribe. Critical thinking is the ability to consider a range of information derived from many different sources, to process this information in a creative and logical manner, challenging it, analyzing it and arriving at considered conclusions which can be defended and justified. Its opposites are prejudice and the risk to judgment. Knowledge has to be constructed – and its meanings change with the context. (Moon, p.30)
There are plenty of reasons that could be given here to justify the importance of critical thinking in society beyond the educational and professional contexts. Being a critical thinker involves more than cognitive activities such as logical reasoning or scrutinizing arguments for assertions unsupported by logical evidence. Thinking critically involves recognizing the assumptions underlying our beliefs and behaviors. It means we can give justifications for our ideas and actions. More importantly, perhaps, it means we try to judge the rationality of these justifications. We can do this by comparing them to a range of varying interpretations and perspectives . . . we can test the accuracy and rationality of these justifications against some kind of objective analysis of the ‘real’ world as we understand it. (Brookfield, p.13–14)
Educators have already recognized the significance of critical thinking. The survival of a democratic way of life, and personal decision making in a complex and rapidly changing society require people who can reason well and make sound judgments. Therefore, the ability to think well is critical to an individual’s success in life. Educators must encourage students to think critically; it is considered as the miracle cure for much that ails both education and society.
Aral, Sinan, The Hype Machine, NY: Random House, 2020
Pew, Research Center, “Digital News Fact Sheet,” August 7, 2017
UNESCO, Journalism, ‘Fake News’ & Disinformation, 2018
Butcher, Judith, Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors, Publishers, Cambridge: CUP, 1992
Ferrara, Emilio, Onur Varol, Clayton Davis, Filippo Menczer, and Alessandro Flammini, “The Rise of Social Bots,” Communications of the ACM, July, 2016
Shu, K., Wang et al, eds, Disinformation, Misinformation, and Fake News in Social Media, Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2020
Altheide, David L., Jennifer N. Grimes, War Programming: The Propaganda Project and the Iraq War, The Sociological Quarterly 46, 2005, Midwest Sociological Society
Zubiaga,Arkaitz, Analysing How People Orient to and Spread Rumours in Social Media by Looking at Conversational Threads, PLOS ONE , March 4, 2016
Delamain, Catherine, Jill Spring, An Introduction for Children Aged 9– 12, NY: Routledge, 2021
Lazer, David, Matthew Baum, Nir Grinberg, Lisa Friedland, Kenneth Joseph, Will Hobbs, and
Brookfield, S, Developing Critical Thinking, Milton Keynes, SRHE and Open University Press, 1987
Moon, Jennifer, Critical Thinking: An Exploration of Theory and Practice, NY: Routledge, 2008
V.A. Mohamad Ashrof is one among the Muslim scholars of Kerala who is regularly publishing articles and papers dealing with Islam and Contemporary Affairs. He has worked as the Executive Editor of Al-Harmony, a Quarterly Journal on Islam and Thought and Ethics, for 10 years. He is the joint secretary of Forum for Faith and Fraternity- a Muslim think tank based in Kochi. He is the author of 2 English Books (‘Islamic Dimensions’, ‘Islam and Gender Justice: Questions at the Interface’) and 2 Malayalam books (The Host and the Hunter: Critique of Anand’s writings). One Malayalam book ‘Christian Zionism: Critique’ has attained great acclamation from the scholarly world.
- Link to read his book on Islam and Gender Justice at Google Books:
- His book Islamic Dimensions can be viewed at: https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=
(V.A. Mohamad Ashrof is the Joint Secretary of Forum for Faith and Fraternity Kerala and receives his mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org)