(JollofNews) – Fake news is so real and so pervasive that already rings disturbingly familiar. It’s the production and dissemination of false information meant to influence the direction of our Gambian life by deluding anyone unsuspecting enough to swallow it.
To our thinking, it’s a matter of championing a healthy democratic process in The Gambia, if nothing else protecting a healthy cash cow. The Gambian people can and should do much to rid their services of malicious fake news sites, haters and trolls. A fetid stream of garbage had diluted the quality of honest debates in the presidential elections just ended. Bad for democracy.
If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what not true, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems. May be the cure begins with common sense. Social media has been drowning in fake news during and after this presidential election, often aimed at undermining Adama Barrow and coalition team. A share of the fake news and misinformation was blamed on a sophisticated propaganda campaign by dishonest people. What role, if any, it played in the election of Adama Barrow is unknown, but the risk it holds for democracy is clear.
Democracy relies to a significant extent on a public well enough informed to make wise decisions about its own government. If those decisions are based on misinformation purposely created to skew the views of some portion of the electorate, then self -government begins to deteriorate.
It’s a scary thought, especially given some of the fake news spread during and after the election campaign: The fake cabinet lists of Presidents -elect Adama Barrow, the fake doctored video of Imam Cham and fake dead body of Solo Sandeng circulating on Facebook. Who believes this stuff? Sadly, there is an open market for the preposterous. It’s not hard to find people who believe even the most absurd stories, if the stories support their own prejudices. The good news out of this is that, for people who want to, this pernicious trend is easy to counter.
First and for must, is to pay attention to that nagging question in the back of the head. This only works for those who take time to think, but it’s effective. Be doubtful, even -may be especially, of convenient information that supports your worldview. If something seems unlikely or too ‘good’ to be true, check it out.
Second, adopt the journalistic code and insist upon corroboration. If your mother says she loves you, get a second source. The difference between real and fake news. Real news is reported by professionals with a commitment to accuracy and objectivity. It is checked and edited. Time and money are put into the serious work of providing information that is factual and valuable. It’s meant to inform, not to manipulate.
It’s hazardous trend for any democracy that intends to sustain itself. Social media sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, need to combat a practice that is bad for them and worst for the country.
What is more important, Gambians must learn how to distinguish between what is real and what is fake news, misinformation and propaganda at this crucial stage of our transition to democracy. It’s very fragile. When people make their choice on any candidate or any party based on false information, they and the country that relies on them are being abused. That is dangerous to go unchallenged.
By Alagi Yorro Jallow
The author is founder and former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the government in 2005. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a 2007 Nieman fellow and is the author of Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in Gambia published in 2013.