In the past, some media figures used to lie to the audience. But today some of the audience lies to the audience. This is the new situation now given the popular social media networks where everyone is a journalist and which have become our source of information.
In the past, we used to underestimate the influence of social media stories that are rich in fabricated narratives and photos. We thought they were not worth anything as they are not credible. That’s what we thought or we thought that they simply didn’t have much of an influence. However, this is not true, as it turned out there are so many of these stories, and they are so systematically to the point where they can create or alter public opinion.
Some studies blame fabricated news for influencing the voters’ convictions during the recent American elections. For instance, there was an article that said Pope Francis was in support of presidential candidate Donald Trump, and this influenced some Catholic voters’ decision. I think the situation is worse in our countries. Although there are no elections here to favor one candidate over another, the situation is more dangerous as such fake reports may affect people’s beliefs and lead them to have wrong convictions at a time when incitement and clashes are unprecedented. In the past, lies used to be few and harmless, like reports about jinn (ghosts) and the supernatural.
I expect credibility to become in demand again. Credibility will become a mark that distinguishes those who want to stand out from the crowdAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook which is considered one of the most important platforms for connecting people, promised that his company would offer solutions to that problem. It seems they will add an option that allows users to report fake news. But what about Twitter? What about WhatsApp which is more popular?
Circulating fake news was something people did for entertainment. We thought this existed in countries which have media outlets that are less credible, but it turned out that this disease has spread across the world, affecting the educated, the ignorant, the smart, the stupid and societies rich in media outlets and those that are not.
‘Fabricated or twisted’
I do not believe Zuckerberg’s claim that the percentage of lies on Facebook is one percent. I am certain it’s much more. I don’t have any statistics but it seems that a large percentage of news that people receive via social media outlets from invalid sources are fabricated or twisted.
There have been frequent attempts to raise awareness among people so they understand not to believe everything they read, and to refute all fake news and reports. However, it’s a sweeping tide and many believe what they think is news. Those who produce fake news have become experts in this unwelcome ‘talent’ and convincing others that these fabricated stories are real. Addressing fake news that imply injustices or conspiracies, or distort the image of public figures, or propagate completely false stories to create a new public opinion have become a primary concern for governments, institutions and individuals as they try to change this growing trend and reverse and repair the damage as much as possible.
I think there’s a long way ahead of us before new media outlets, primarily social media outlets, stabilize, become more credible and propagate less lies. Credibility used to be the most important trait that any daily or television station dreamed of having. Some media brands are well-known for their credibility as people trust their news. An example is the BBC which has enjoyed its status as a reliable and balanced news source since the mid-20th century.
But we are currently in a world of chaos, resulting from the collapse of the old world media order. Therefore, and due to the domination of lies over truth, I expect credibility to become in demand again. Credibility will become a mark that distinguishes those who want to stand out from the crowd. Truth is worth it no matter how harmful or costly it may be and it must be pursued according to the rules of professional journalism. Credibility indicates people’s trust in media outlets, and this is what grants them respect or deprives them of it.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 23, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.