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Knowing Your Role in Combating Fake News on Social Media

Written by: Phit Phariya, a 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh

Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News

(Photo Credit: "Misinformation" by 3dpete is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)


Social media is an inevitable part of every society in this digital age. Many things you read online, especially in your social media news feed may appear to be factual but often are not. Due to its rapid speed, false information has been around for years and can be up to six times quicker than a piece of general news. With the illusionary adverse effect, when you hear a lie many times, you tend to believe it is true. In the era of the internet, concern about the issue is intense. You may have to take a moment to think before sharing what you see because fake news is more intimate!

Importance of news for daily life  

News is vital for a variety of reasons in our daily life. The primary goal of it is to keep the public informed of activities that happen and affect us. We cannot imagine our life without news. News provides us with knowledge, which is crucial for social changes. It is vital to keep track of what is going on in our society with this unpredictable dynamic era, where your views are constantly questioned. Therefore, you need to keep reading the news no matter how old you are and be aware of what is going on in your area. With that, you can assist those who do not know where to start to deal with it and miss out on it. By checking through your social media account, you can find that there is news content in your newsfeed, and it can keep you up to date with what is going on in your local surroundings and the rest of the world. More and more people now engage with social media due to the rising popularity of a wide range of internet-enabled devices and advanced mobile internet speeds. And most of us also get our news from social media sites. Unfortunately, social media has its negative side, in which fake news is widespread. Some specific groups use misinformation to influence and manipulate users for political or economic gain. 

Fake news and why people fall for it 

False information is not new. It has been a concern of almost every one of us as citizens who obtain information from social media. Fake news is known as false stories fabricated and circulated to deceive those who read it. Such content can damage public debate by manipulating people to make unwise decisions on all aspects of life. False information can fool people by imitating trustworthy websites or using names and web addresses similar to that of credible news organizations. This harm can be the distinguishing factor of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, clickbait, and hoax. Disinformation refers to the deliberate dissemination of false information with the intent to deceive. Misinformation is inaccurate reporting resulting from misleading an error, an honest mistake, or using incomplete data. There is no intention in deceiving, but it is misleading. And propaganda is the spread of information or ideas, arguments, rumors, half-truths, or lies in a rumor to influence public opinion. Clickbait refers to the exaggerated content or headlines created to provoke readers by appealing to their emotions, generally anger or curiosity. It is to entice readers to connect with content to produce ad revenue. When you click on a link, the website that hosts it receives money from advertisers, but the content itself has a problem with quality and accuracy. The issue is that when a website uses clickbait, it usually prioritizes getting clicks over providing high-quality content. It implies that they do not mind wasting our time with overrated content. And hoax refers to deception, either amusing or malicious, used to manipulate or mislead others. It typically takes the form of fabrication of falsified or incorrect information. 

Impacts of fake news

Due to the long existence of Fake news, yet with the rise of the ease of the internet and social media, it has become more complicated to determine what can and cannot be trusted. Users are probably aware that fake news and other forms of misleading information can take several structures that may also have significant consequences. It is because knowledge shapes our views, and we place our critical decisions on that. We gather information to manifest opinions about individuals or situations. We will not be able to make good decisions if the information we receive is fabricated, misleading, exaggerated or distorted. That somehow can make us believe and support untruthful misinformation. It can manipulate our thoughts, our perspective, and view toward certain things, leading us to make irrational decisions. Fake News has an immense impact on us as social media users. The senior people who lack technological knowledge can easily fall victim or be vulnerable to it. According to a study published in the journal Science, older people are nearly four times more likely than adolescents to have shared fake news via social media. That includes the information related to the COVID-19 pandemic as the number of infected people has been deployed to manipulate individual points of view. It somehow could impact their psychology and caused the situation to be chaotic. Another case, the spread of untruthful information about the dead people caused by covid-19 which they die due to their health and sickness that completely contradicts the news. Also, there is propaganda circulating vaccine misinformation on safety and effectiveness to generate vaccine hesitancy among people. Moreover, we had seen misinformation spread, which claimed that it was possible to get rid of the virus by consuming garlic or drinking bleach. However, no scientific evidence could prove that eating garlic protects people from the virus. This false information can quickly spread from one to another, much like a virus. But generally, medical misinformation has always been fueled by ideologues who suspect science and proven measures like the case of vaccines. 

How to tackle fake news

On social media, fake news may be inevitable. However, improving critical thinking will aid in the prevention of the spread. To tackle fake news, people can maintain a healthy level of interest in what they see on their social media. Firstly, they should comprehend how social media sites curate what they spot and learn to take investigative activities to examine whether any information circulated on social media is trustworthy with reliable sources. It is also vital to discover whether a social media account spreading that information has any professional or sentimental connection with the claims. Thus, when consuming "news," you need to look at the source and see if the information is true and accurate. You can also ask yourself some other questions: Is it hosted on a satirical news website? On social media platforms or just personal blogs? Just keep being skeptical of information unless it comes from a reputable news outlet. Do your homework. You need to rigorously check it even though it involves the use of statistics. The point is that statistics are a common way to entice customers and offer the appearance of fact. You cannot take their claims at face value. Review the research's citations and dates, ensuring that they are reliable and not outdated. Secondly, people need to have a sufficient understanding of the aims of their fellow posters who regularly publish information and disseminate news contents. It is the key to countering false or misleading information on social media. In our country, Prime Minister Hun Sen himself urged people, especially media personalities, to join hands and spread more truthful information so it will contribute to eradicating fake news. Not only journalists who have a role, but every individual social media user can play a role in distributing accurate information and also in raising awareness on fake news among their peers. By doing that, more people will care and take action to join the fights against this infodemic. As responsible social media users, people should strictly adhere to their duties with integrity, actively report or pass around only the facts with reliable references, not exaggeration or misrepresentation. All users must spread accurate, evidence-based information. Speaking from my own experience, when people share or forward information to me on social media, I always ask them to check and verify it on official news sites before believing and sharing. If we can follow these, at least we can reduce the frequent spread of false or misleading information on social media. When executed with good purpose and consideration, social media can be a powerful tool for every individual to gather much-needed information. Thirdly, everyone can contribute to preventing fake news from being wider spread by boosting their media literacy. When almost everyone can create content related to various issues, they need to acquire sufficient knowledge on how to deal with fake news and how to use their social media more responsibly. By saying this, they have duties to read and research to comprehend the causes and effects of false information and take part in reporting such information when coming across it through social media platforms. The general public can effectively scrutinize and take further action to tackle fake news when there are more awareness-raising programs, such as seminars, training, public discussions and educational activities. All people should understand that posting false information on social media without accountability is equivalent to spreading fake news and contributing to the degeneration of their society. Everyone can become a fake news distributor, even without having an intention or understanding it, if they do not have basic knowledge of the detrimental consequences of fake news. We can never stop fake news from being circulated, but we can do our part to prevent it from being replicated!

*This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.