Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif is the latest victim of the fast-paced and often unreliable era of social media. After reading a report floating on social media that his Israeli counterpart had threatened “nuclear retaliation” for Islamabad’s role in Syria, he shot back a warning to Israel claiming that his country could use nuclear weapons too.
This is not the first time that a fake news story has stirred trouble for people. In fact, in 2016 alone the extent of fake stories going viral has gone up to such an extent that Facebook has been forced to act against these stories. Facebook is being pressured to use censorship to wipe out such articles from the platform.
This ‘viral content’ is created by several sources including pranksters, often with an aim to garner advertising revenue by spreading it on social networks to drive traffic to their websites.
US presidential polls: Even during the highly-talked about US presidential elections, a co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, had tweeted about protesters being paid to hold demonstrations against Donald Trump. The conspiracy theory gained momentum nationwide, to an extent that Trump too joined in on the same. The news was untrue, but even before action could be taken, the damage was done.
In fact, a news analysis by BuzzFeed had revealed that during the final three months of the US presidential elections, the stories which did best on social media were the fake ones, not the ones by prominent news organisations. The intensity of the problem of fake stories going viral is such that Facebook is being pressured to use censorship to wipe out such articles from the platform.
Demonetisation: While people were standing in lines struggling to withdraw and submit their hard-earned money, several pictures did the rounds. Some hailed the government’s move, some criticised, and others just floated the theories to get retweets. For eg: A picture of a girl holding a stack of Rs 2000 notes was widely shared as that of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Keshav Prasad Maurya’s daughter. Even Congress and AAP jumped the gun.
Jayalalithaa’s death: Fake stories start floating around mostly around the topics which are trending. When Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa passed away, an image of a lady who was being referred to as the late AIADMK chief’s daughter was shared on social media. The lady referred to in the image has similar facial features as that of Jayalalithaa was thus being dubbed as her ‘secret daughter’.
University circulars: Reports hailed Oxford University for an alleged note where the varsity directed its students to refer each other using gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze” and not “he” or “she”. The move got appreciation across all platforms, only to be later found that the report was fake. In India too, a notice came out, purportedly issued by the chief warden of the Manipal university, stating that they should refrain from masturbating in bathrooms. It later turned out that the notice was nothing but a figment of someone’s imagination.
Death hoax: Actor Sylvester Stallone was among the several celebrities who played a victim of death hoax. The news of Lady Gaga’s death also spread like wildfire causing upset among fans. The Facebook page named “R.I.P. Lady Gaga” attracted almost a million likes.