Fake news is not a new phenomenon in our world. It is the deliberate and malicious attempt to spread distorted facts or completely untrue story in order to mislead the unsuspecting public. The advent of the internet and the proliferation of unprofessional news sites and news aggregators have further heightened the incidence of fake news. The internet and particularly social media have guaranteed that this news travels widely in the shortest possible time. False news released in the morning has the potential to reach billions of people through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Blogs before the end of the day. The dangers of this practice cannot be overemphasised. It can cause enormous damage that will require resources and years to repair. And it can actually cause irreparable damage. Case in point, during the Ebola crisis in 2014, fake news was circulated about bathing and drinking salty water to prevent people from contracting Ebola. Many people responded to this fake news and bathed with salty water. The immediate consequence was the death of the ignorant consumers of the news. There is absolutely no way to restore the lives that were lost to that incident.
It is more ridiculous that the fake news that emanates from questionable sources is often amplified by conventional and supposed professional media platforms. It appears media practitioners and the ever growing army of pseudo journalists have denounced the totality of journalistic principles and the ethos of media practice that are predicated on accuracy, balance and fairness. Journalism is now practiced by some so-called professionals without any recourse to maintaining journalistic integrity. It is this prevalence of false news that prompted the federal government to attempt censoring information sharing on the internet.
Inasmuch as we are vehemently against any attempt to stifle the freedom of the Nigerian people, we do not encourage irresponsible communication. Free press and freedom of speech should be encouraged by all means but with freedom comes responsibility, and it is the responsibility of every news carrier to verify and report authentic news. The internet and the possibility to share information easily should be an advantage to human communication; it should not be an albatross. The effect of false news on the socio-economic wellbeing of a nation cannot be quantified. In fact some sectors of the economy are so peculiar that ubiquity of false information can crumble the whole sector in the shortest possible time. One of such sectors that thrive on information is the maritime industry.
It is no news that the palletisation policy that was recently introduced by the federal government has been a major topic of discourse in the maritime industry. The introduction of the policy has elicited reactions from virtually all stakeholders in the industry. Shippers have bemoaned the policy as a disincentive to their business, and called on the federal government to review its decision. While stakeholders are still pushing for a possible compromise on the policy in the overall interest of the industry, some unscrupulous individuals circulated false news that the federal government had suspended the implementation of the policy. Unfortunately, those who read the story believed it without formal attempts to verify its authenticity.
To counter false news is not as easy as activating it. The amount of time dedicated to refuting the fake news could have been directed at other productive and beneficial activities. In the same vein, the financial effect could be channelled to more beneficial endeavours. In any event, it is practically impossible to completely deflect the overall impact of fake news that has spread widely But to fight this threatening nuisance requires concerted effort. It is not the sole responsibility of the journalist or media practitioners to check the excesses of other media actors and citizen journalists. In this dispensation where the line between the professional journalist and the merely exuberant information disseminator is fading rapidly, it behoves everyone to take responsibility for quelling fake news. It is commendable that some individuals are already working on an association that will become a central body for bloggers in Nigeria. The establishment and activeness of this body will greatly aid in separating the professional and responsible bloggers from the rest. The other side of the coin also places some responsibility on the news consumer. It is important for everyone to become media literate. This helps the individual’s ability to scrutinise news and discern what is true from what is false. On the part of regulators, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and other regulatory agencies need to do more in sanctioning erring news platform as a way to instil the culture of responsible journalism.
Ultimately, we all need to join hands to make our nation great, and our world better; but we must do it by sharing authentic news and disapprove of any individual engaged in the creation and dissemination of false news as a means of seeking attention and personal gains.
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