Fake or Real? The Age of Misinformation admist COVID-19 Pandemic.
News is noteworthy information about recent events but NOT all news is real. There has been an unprecedented growth of fake news on the internet of topics revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic and movement control order (#MCO) period.
How fast does Fake News spread?
Here’s an example of a recent incident that happened on 29th March 2020 during the MCO period. The forwarded information was spread through WhatsApp at 4:42 pm claiming the robbing occurred at a Pharmacy store in Puchong, Malaysia.
Figure 1 sourced from the author’s WhatsApp.
However, a published report bythe Sun Daily, Malaysia’s official media at 8:51 pm mentioned that the robbing happened in a pharmacy store in Klang, Malaysia.
Figure 2 sourced from the Sun Daily.
With this one example of how rapidly fake news is spread and most of the time, just imagine how many hundreds thousands or millions of fake news are being shared online? During the MCO period, many of these fake news are forwarded on communication channels such as WhatsApp, Telegram and WeChat.
What is Fake News?
According to a recent scientific journal published on ScienceMag, Lazer and 15 other researchers defined fake news as “fabricated information that mimics news media content in the form” and is used to misinform and deceive people.
Figure 3 sourced from Giphy
What motivates people to start fake news?
There are hundreds of reasons why people start fake news as it is literally at the tip of our fingers to click “send” or “forward” on our mobile phone. But what motivates these people to start?
Fake News Pay. Be it promoting products or services or doing advertising affiliation, it seems that the money is one of the reasons why people get paid. During the US election in 2016, some individuals get paid to be an entirely different person online just to spread fake news or news that is pro to a certain political party. Other than paying in a monetary form, according to the Malaysia Nasional Security Council (MKN), some individuals spread fake news to gain personal data.
Promote some kind of ideology or personal agenda. As discussed in a podcast by Dr. Chrysalis Wright, an associate lecturer at the University of Florida, the confirmation bias sometimes triggers people to start fake news because it conforms to their ideology.
Out of Panic, afraid of the spread of COVID-19, some people would create fake news about the severity of the pandemic in order to convince others to stay at home. One of the best ways for fake news to spread like a wildfire is to come up with news that is fearful or upsetting. During the #MCO period, there was fake news on locations that are in the COVID-19 red zone, however, it was later debunked by the Malaysia Nasional Security Council (MKN).
Do people intentionally SHARE fake news? If not, what makes people do it?
1. Novelty. It is in our human nature that we like novelty. We are attracted to things that capture our attention. When we receive this “insider” information, we get so excited and hoping to be the first person to share this “important” information that makes us think we look smart or knowledgeable regardless of the accuracy of the news.
Figure 4 sourced from Giphy
2. It appeals to our Emotions.
Figure 5 sourced from Giphy
According to a study published by ScienceMag in 2018, human emotions such as fear, disgust, and surprise play a huge role in disseminating fake news. As a result, we may feel more anxious and readily disseminate information to others. On the other hand, true news tends to get feedback related anticipation, joy, sadness and trust which generally do not generate much attention like fake news.
Figures 6 and 7 from the Malaysia National Security Council’s seBENARnya website to curb fake news in Malaysia.
3. Desensitization. Research from the Association of Psychology Science of Sage Journal suggested that when we are exposed to the same fake news headline more than once, we are more likely to share them versus seeing the fake headline for the first time. It was theorized that repeating misinformation makes people view the news as more credible, hence, they are more likely to share regardless of whether they believe it.
Figure 8 sourced from Giphy
4. Reliance on Gut Feeling or Hard Evidence? When was the last time you relied on your intuition to make a decision? Studies found that people are more likely to believe in fake news when they rely on their gut feeling. This is because our gut feeling, intuition or sixth sense is strongly linked to our personal beliefs and opinions. As a result, the belief of fake news may create fake memories that ring as true news. Yes, our memories are not very reliable. Hence, it is important to keep a daily journal!
Figure 9 sourced from Giphy
5. The Power of Influencers especially on Social Media
A Social Media Influencer is someone who has the ability to persuade or convince others to believe in something they present, be it products or services. In my opinion, it is important for social media influencers to thread false information more carefully as they have thousands or millions of followers or fans that consume their contents almost daily. Many of their “followers” or “fans” tend to trust them more easily than the media as social media influencers create personalized and relatable content that evoke emotions and inspire others.
Figure 10. Snapshot of an article sourced from Travel Daily Media.
How can We SPOT Fake News?
There is no way fact-checkers are able to keep up with the spread of misinformation online. Here are some tips on how we can spot fake news and prevent ourselves from sharing misinformation.
Read Beyond the Headline. It’s time to Buff Up Information Literacy.
1. Power Up your Googling Skill. With so much information received on WhatsApp and other communication channels can be daunting, hence it is important to take this information to Mr. Goo (Google or other search engines). Instead of relying on one news source, google and refer to legit official media websites for official news and accurate information.
Figure 11 sourced from Giphy
2. Trustworthy information can be sourced from reputable sites. If an article or site doesn’t have “about us”, “contact information” and “publisher”, it is likely to be fake.
Figure 12 sourced from Giphy
3. If the article does not have the author’s name on it, it is also likely to be fake.
Figure 13 sourced from Giphy
4. Professional Journalism credits their source of information. If the image or data published on the articles do not credit their source, it is highly to be fake.
Figure 14 sourced from Giphy
If you are using Google Chrome, you can right-click the article’s image and click “search google” and you may find the source of the image.
Figure 15 sourced from PixaBay
5. Before you share it in a heartbeat, Pause and Think. A recent study published on Harvard Kennedy School suggests that putting a hard pause and thinking before sharing information helps to lower the chances of spreading fake news. With time, we allow our brain to process and reflect the information received more thoroughly and thus helping us to discern true news from fake news.
Figure 16 sourced from Giphy
6. Good things take time, refer back to Pause and Think, critical thinking helps.
Figure 17 sourced from Giphy
7. Your Attitude of Healthy Skepticism HELPS. When you practice healthy skepticism to the information you received, you are more likely to verify the news before sharing them.
Figure 18 sourced from Giphy
If you want to have the latest updates on COVID-19 in Malaysia, please refer to the Ministry of Health Malaysia website.
On 29th March 2020, Malaysia Nasional Security Council (MKN) established an official website known as www.seBENARnya.my to manage the spreading of fake news. If you want to clarify the accuracy of the information or news you received, you can submit your inquiry to this website.
Please SHARE with us If you have experience about fake news, we would love to hear from you!
Nevertheless, Stay Safe!
American Psychology Association. (2019). Speaking Of Psychology: Fake News And Why It Matters. [online] Available at: <https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/fake-news> [Accessed 1 April 2020].
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Davey-Attlee, F. and Soares, I., 2020. The Fake News Machine: Inside A Town Gearing Up For 2020. [online] Money.cnn.com. Available at: <https://money.cnn.com/interactive/media/the-macedonia-story/> [Accessed 1 April 2020].
Fazio, L. (2020). Pausing to consider why a headline is true or false can help reduce the sharing of false news. Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review. doi: 10.37016/mr-2020-009
Garrett, R., & Weeks, B. (2017). Epistemic beliefs’ role in promoting misperceptions and conspiracist ideation. PLOS ONE, 12(9), e0184733. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184733
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Murphy, G., Loftus, E., Grady, R., Levine, L., & Greene, C. (2019). False Memories for Fake News During Ireland’s Abortion Referendum. Psychological Science, 30(10), 1449-1459. doi: 10.1177/0956797619864887
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Jolene is an intern at BeLive in Psychology. She is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Counseling at Monash University. She writes topics covering mental wellbeing and sustainable (green) lifestyle. She also enjoys doing modeling and creative works.