Fake news is becoming more common worldwide - CC Geralt via Pixabay
CAIRO - 23 July 2018: Although false news used to exist throughout time, their propagation have been facilitated and accelerated by social media whereas users may not verify and fact-check information unlike professional journalists in mainstream media.
In the past few weeks, irrational news was promoted on social media, some of which has even become very popular. The target recipients of such rumors have been lower and higher middle class citizens; in other words, the masses. The phenomenon led many executive institutions and officials falsify such fake news.
An alarming figure was given by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Sunday during his speech in the graduation ceremony of military academies’ students. He said that 21,000 rumors were promoted over a relatively short period of three months.
A false news related to education claimed that students at public schools would have to purchase a ticket daily to enter the establishment at a cost of LE1 ($0.06). Another was about deducting five points, and imposing a LE 200 ($11.2) fine on students who receive private tutoring, a very common practice in Egypt.
On July 17, the government had to refute seven fabricated rumors. The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation denied the presence of plastic eggs in the markets, saying it received no complaints regarding that matter and clarifying that Egypt has self-sufficiency of eggs; its production (11-12 billion eggs per years) gives room for exporting as well. Previously, a rumor had been circulating on the existence of plastic rice.
After the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade announced that vitamins would be added to subsidized bread, claims that those are contraceptives and not vitamins arose. The ministry also denied any shortages in subsidized foods - available at specialized outlets - and any increases in their prices.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity refuted rumors that 200,000 families have been excluded from the monetary subsidies program Takafol wa Karama because of limited resources. Instead, it said that 203,000 families were removed because of non-eligibility.
After a fire had broken out in a hospital in Beni Suef governorate, the Ministry of Health and Population negated that incubators for premature babies were burnt down and that they went out of service.
Fighting fake news
Fake news is becoming more common worldwide, so social media users bear the responsibility of receiving different messages very critically, and learning about credible sources for authentic information.
On the other hand, some countries attempt to combat false news by imposing penalties on those who circulate them. The United Arab Emirates has set a fine of up to DH 1 million for individuals who share fake news on Facebook or pass them on via What’sApp. In Malaysia, offenders could be fined up to 500,000 ringgit (£93,000) and jailed for up to six years.
In spite of China possessing alternatives to regular social media as a way to prohibit any socio-political influence over its people, it also suffers from methods that propagate false news and is trying to eliminate them. Thus, it created in 2017 a website where citizens can report fake news or leaks pertinent to the military. The most popular social media in China are WeChat, Renren, Weibo, and Youku Tudou which respectively mimic What’sApp, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Germany adopted in June 2017 a law against posting hate speech, child pornography, terror-related items and false information on social media. The platforms administrators of those media can be fined up to €50 million ($58 million) if they fail to remove such illegal content. Also, their directors can be fined up to €5 million.
Similar laws are under study in France, Brazil, Kenya, and Egypt to combat false news varying in their impact, magnitude, and scope.