Fear of be­ing mis­led again ‘H

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Dion Chang voices@city­press.co.za

i, my name’s Dion, and I’m con­fused.” This could well be the mem­bers’ mantra of a new sup­port group I’m think­ing of start­ing: the AFA – other­wise known as Al­ter­na­tive Facts Anony­mous. Judg­ing by what’s hap­pened, just in the first month of 2017, I’m pretty sure it’s go­ing to be a pop­u­lar ser­vice. It will be a haven for those who just don’t know who to trust or be­lieve any longer, and in time, a half­way house for the creators and deal­ers (we’ll call them “post-truth pimps”) of fake news want­ing to re­form, con­fess and atone for their me­dia sins.

2016 (the year that must not be named) was the launch pad for this me­dia trend. Fake news and dis­in­for­ma­tion grew and spread like bac­te­rial spore, with a volatile global po­lit­i­cal arena act­ing as a warm and moist Petri dish. Brexit, Trump’s elec­tion and even our own mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions were all af­fected by this higher form of mud-sling­ing – so much so that, by Novem­ber, the Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary an­nounced that their Word of the Year 2016 was post-truth. They de­scribed it as an ad­jec­tive de­fined as “re­lat­ing to or de­not­ing cir­cum­stances in which ob­jec­tive facts are less in­flu­en­tial in shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion than ap­peals to emo­tion and per­sonal be­lief”.

And therein lies the key. Po­lit­i­cal post-truths stab specif­i­cally at your per­sonal be­liefs, fan the flames of emo­tion (in­evitably out­rage) and, be­cause we now have at­ten­tion spans of lab rats in a dig­i­tal era, we fail to stop, think and check the facts. By the time we’ve screamed into our so­cial-me­dia echo cham­bers, the af­fir­ma­tion of the out­rage that bounces back proves to be the drug we now all crave, and pro­pels the trend.

The fact that South Africans ex­pe­ri­ence tu­mul­tuous break­ing po­lit­i­cal news sto­ries – real ones, and some­times in 12-hour cy­cles – makes it even harder to dif­fer­en­ti­ate what is real, or not. The re­cent ANC #WarRoom saga just serves to add an­other layer of scep­ti­cism to what we read and be­lieve.

Take, for ex­am­ple, a re­cent tweet I caught on the fly. It claimed that the Congress of the Peo­ple had been “re­li­ably” in­formed by a “well-placed” ANC mem­ber that a Cab­i­net reshuf­fle by Zuma was im­mi­nent, and that Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gor­dan was go­ing to be re­placed by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Emo­tional but­ton pushed. Tick. In­cred­u­lous, knee­jerk re­ac­tion. Tick. Hit the share but­ton? Not so fast. I’m learn­ing to be cyn­i­cal and wary, but that doesn’t stop the mes­sage swirling in my head. After all, the 2015 an­nounce­ment that Des van Rooyen was re­plac­ing Nh­lanhla Nene as fi­nance min­is­ter is some­thing that you can’t for­get. If by the time you read this col­umn, Dlamini-Zuma is our fi­nance min­is­ter, then I will most cer­tainly be reg­is­ter­ing the AFA as a trade­mark.

But let’s take a step back. The ori­gins of what made fake news pop­u­lar, and now a for­mal in­dus­try, are in­ter­est­ing. The shift from tra­di­tional to on­line ad­ver­tis­ing spawned the con­cept of “click bait”. On­line ad­ver­tis­ing thrives on the lure of the “long tail of the in­ter­net”, which made web­sites that were rel­a­tively small – but had at­trac­tive, niche au­di­ences (like blogs for new par­ents or dis­cus­sion fo­rums for mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­asts) – at­trac­tive to ad­ver­tis­ers.

A sys­tem known as “pro­gram­matic ad­ver­tis­ing” al­lows ad­ver­tis­ers to track the impressions of their ad­vert – the num­ber of times it is dis­played and viewed. This sys­tem, which mea­sures and re­wards clicks and impressions in cy­berspace, has in essence fu­elled the growth of nu­mer­ous low-qual­ity sites, set up specif­i­cally to boost im­pres­sion rates. These types of sites are hard to mon­i­tor in terms of au­then­tic­ity, but nev­er­the­less count to­wards the num­ber of impressions an ad­ver­tiser would re­ceive. This sys­tem, com­bined with po­larised pol­i­tics, helps drive the fake news in­dus­try.

It has also be­come a money-spin­ning in­dus­try. The Fi­nan­cial Times re­ported last year that teenagers around the globe are cot­ton­ing on to the lu­cra­tive busi­ness of writ­ing fic­tional or wildly ex­ag­ger­ated news ar­ti­cles to en­sure they will be shared and spread on fake news sites or so­cial me­dia. A 17-year-old fake news web­site owner (based in Mace­do­nia) glee­fully stated that: “One of my best sto­ries said that Trump had slapped a Mus­lim guy at a rally.” You can just imag­ine the “click-and-share out­rage” from that post. One of these web­sites notched an in­come of €7 500 (nearly R108 100) just for Novem­ber. This is why the in­dus­try is boom­ing, and will con­tinue to grow.

Now that fake news has be­come an es­tab­lished in­dus­try, best you take any­thing you read with a pinch of salt. For­get #FOMO.

As for the AFA, I’ve al­ready de­cided that the of­fi­cial hash­tag is go­ing to be #FOBMA, which stands for Fear of Be­ing Mis­led Again. Are you ready to sign up?

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit flux­trends.com. Join him on Metro FM to­mor­row at 6.30am,

when he dis­cusses these trends on the First Av­enue show

TALK TO US Have you ever been duped by fake news on so­cial me­dia and did it af­fect your de­ci­sions? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word FAKE and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.