Fake news, also described as yellow journalism, is an unethical practice that, over the years, has pervaded the traditional print and electronic media as well as online social media, posing a threat to societies and democratic institutions.
So globally prevalent is fake news that it was named 2017’s word of the year, following what the dictionary called its ‘ubiquitous presence” over the last 12 months.
Prof. Emevwo Biakolo, pioneer dean of the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University speaks on this catch-all term for misinformation. Excerpts:
What is news?
Since we commonly identify news as information provided in media outlets, the significant difference between informal news peddlers and professional reporters is that the latter have institutional outlets, to be precise, radio/TV, newspapers, magazines and news syndicates. Emphasis on facts and professional training impose responsibility on reporters for fairness and accuracy.
This difference places a burden on the reporter for efficacy in the news reporting and writing process. For instance, if news is “to help people solve their problems intelligently,” the intelligence contained in the news must be factual, not misleading or ambiguous. But if news is what is selected by news staff, based on their judgement of what is of interest to their audience, it stands to reason that news is not so much about facts out there in the world, existing in an objective extra-linguistic universe, and divorced from the lived reality of the society and culture. Rather, news is what the staff says it is, and it is what the society adjudges to be meaningful for their lives. This social construction of news is usually peddled as gate-keeping function of the media.
Basis of news selection
There is a wide variety of possible news events from which editors and reporters must make a selection. What factors determine the choices made? And how are the choices made presented to the society whose expectations are at the basis of the selections in the first place? Story angles, news treatment, impact assessment, the prominence given to some items over others, timeliness and currency, all these are factors that are pre-determined by other factors in social process such as group affiliation, ownership structure, the views and interests of consumers, as well as the education and professional training of journalists?
Since media producers and consumers typically share a similar frame of reference, according to Elliot Freidson, “the process and effect of mass communication must be seen today against the background concept of an intensely active audience, knowledgeable, seeking what it wants, rejecting far more content than it accepts, interacting both with the members of the groups it belongs and with content it receives and often testing the mass media message by talking it over with other persons or comparing it with other media content.”
The media operate as a social system within the larger social system. As economic producers and business enterprises, they are inclined to self-sustenance and maintaining its equilibrium. This tendency impacts on the effectiveness or otherwise of news reporting and writing as the economics of media production compels catering to the largest number of their target audience. We now come to the more interesting issue of fake news.
Fake news may be defined as “fabricated news.” It consists of a made-up story with no factual basis, a kind of yellow journalism or propaganda. Fake news is frequently practiced by many online media outlets, which depend on advertising revenue per click or view. Nonetheless, the practice of fake news production is not all new. Throughout history, various rulers have resorted to disinformation and misinformation to gain political points. The well-oiled German propaganda machine under Josef Gobbels during the Third Reich is perhaps the most notorious example in recent history.
The present conversation owes no small favour to President Donald Trump who popularised the term in his attacks on mainstream media. According to one source, “President Trump’s frequent claims that the mainstream American media regularly reports fake news has increased distrust of the American media globally.” I might add that this growing distrust is not confined to the United States of America.
According to a study, fake news, frequently churned from fake news factories in Eastern Europe, has witnessed a higher sharing on Facebook than ‘legitimate’ news stories.
Motive of fake news
What is the motivation, intention or purpose of those who peddle this category of news? According to a source, “Easy access to online advertisement revenue, increased political polarisation and the popularity of social media primarily the Facebook News Feeds have all been implicated in the spread of fake news, which has come to provide competition for legitimate news stories.” Libel is hard to prosecute as a result of anonymous website hosts with no known addresses.
Differentiation features of fake news
The critical question is how do we distinguish fake News from other genres of popular narrative, for example, from satire, parody and propaganda? Some of the distinguishing characteristics include discrepancy between headline and story; misleading content: using factual information to frame a story or individual so as to discredit a target (many legitimate media do this also); misleading context: mixing factual information with fabricated context. Others are fabricated content; source salad: mixing genuine and false sources, and filter bubble and customised news – news tidbits repackaged to cater for consumers’ taste because the whole news may not be palatable, is not liked or desired or because consumers have no time or desire to filter or consume critically.
Effective communication in the era of fake News and post-truth
If fake news is a threat to professional journalism and, by extension, the interests of society, some elementary measures we could take include an extensive media literacy programme, more training on critical thinking and analysis skills in our broad educational settings, and in technology-dense environments, the prospects of the use of artificial intelligence to identify fake news is being considered. On the other hand, the prospect of alternative factuality, and contestable truths (which is really what post-truth is about), makes even such a suggestion only a tentative proposal.
In essence, fake news is what the powerful mainstream media do not sanction as news. It defies the professional practices of the latter as well as its view of what constitutes reality and the good. To that extent, fake news producers are rebels against the hegemonic power of mainstream media. Their view of factuality is a challenge to a commonly held view of what constitutes a fact. Producers of fake news are thus in a way, the practical realisation of a post-modern view that the truth does not exist in any objective space out there, but is merely the result of social actors involved in the dynamics of power struggle to determine whose truth will prevail. In a certain sense therefore, the contestation about fake news, alternative facts and (post-) truth is a struggle for power, that power that we have identified as the power of discourse, or if you will, the power of communication in society and culture.
Eat‘N’Go attains London Stock Exchange list
Eat‘N’Go Limited, Nigeria’s master franchisee for one of the foremost pizza companies in the world, Domino’s Pizza, and its two other brands, Cold Stone Creamery and Pinkberry Gourmet Frozen Yoghurt, has again marked its footprints in Africa as it has been recognised by the London Stock Exchange group as one of the companies to inspire Africa in 2019.
This was announced at the launch of the second edition of the “Companies to Inspire Africa” report during the market opening ceremony by the London Stock Exchange Group, which held recently in London. The report highlights the leading private companies operating in Africa, which have the most inspiring stories and the strongest growth potential. Eat‘N’Go was listed alongside 78 other companies in the consumer services category, and 360 African companies across several sectors such as agriculture, finance, health, education, renewable energy and telecoms.
Commenting on the recognition, the chief executive officer of Eat‘N’Go Limited, Patrick McMichael, said, “Being part of organisations that have created so much impact in the African economy is a milestone achievement and we are proud to be recognised by the London Stock Exchange Group for the work that we do. We understand the uniqueness and dynamic nature of the Nigerian market and we have constantly ensured that we continue to provide value to our consumers through our products and service offerings.
“We have also invested in manpower development for our team who has shown so much dedication and passion to growing the business to where it is today. We are excited and we cannot wait to do even more as we continue to expand the business to different frontiers across Africa.”
Eat‘N’Go’s successes over the last few years can be attributed to the level of human capital development invested in members of the organisation. The company has kicked off the first quarter of 2019 with an intensive six-week development programme starting at the Eat‘N’Go training centres across Lagos State.