The advent of technology brought a mixed blessing to Journalism. The highly referred fourth estate of the realm profession which was once the confinement of trained professionals has come to the main market where everyone with ability to read and write letters A – Z can wake up and publish. In terms of the good , the information flow had been hijacked from a group of selected individuals who in the past either made or marred the society through its gate keeper role.
The challenges of misinformation does not just start today. The introduction of ‘soft sell’ into this profession started the disruption of having to know how to remove the facts from fiction. Unfortunately, ‘lies, gossip sells faster’ than real news. In fact the bad news is also what sell so the more you can curate and catalogue as many woes as possible the better for your news organization fortune. For the soft sell, the more ‘gossip and did you hear this story’ you can spread around the better for your corporate fortune. This is just an opinion which is open to debate. Our focus today is not on the popular traditional media but the new media platforms which now allow citizen journalists to reign supreme.
With the new entrant to the trade, people now have varied sources of getting information at a go. Infact many niche citizen Journalists now command more attention than regular media houses. They wield greater influence on their community members. There are news platforms that attractive ten Million traffic in a month. This is commendable and we must acknowledge the work many of these citizens journalists are doing. In development area, there are platforms like ours which have consistently raised the dialogue around Policy, governance and politics. They put governments at different levels on their toes. They expose obvious weaknesses that could have been covered up had it been we are still in the 20th Century eras. For this we must appreciate technological breakthrough which allows individuals to join the league of news and information flow across the globe. But as we know, every great thing of value is subject to other known disadvantage. This then is the reason for this piece.
Today we have many online media platforms that thrive on lies and misinformation as well as pure gossip. Being a rumour mill is not totally bad but a consistent attitude which deliberately misinform the public causes tension and damages individual or corporate organization’s wills. This we think calls for a form of moderation. While in certain cases, one can overlook this evil, one is a bit concerned about a deliberate spread of rumours and unverified news to the the public in the face of danger. Like arm -chair journalists of those days, we now have , many who called themselves online media platform news aggregators/Publishers who are daily involved in spreading rumour without the necessary background checks.
Take for instance the outbreak of Ebola Virus in West Africa, there is nothing one has not read. From the numbers of people infected to those who have died or are ‘miraculously’ healed of this deadly disease. As soon as one isfilled with jubilation over another human who had just escaped the claw of death from the disease, you will check in the next time online to see different stories negating such claim. In terms of information spread, many of these citizen journalists often spread or increase the ‘fear/tension qoutient’ in the general populace as people will not know what to believe. Playing with such sensitive issues should attract a grievous penalty which should discourage others from following their foot steps.. With issues of life and death, It is expedient we do the followings:
Get a law in place:why we keep complaining online media should not be regulated because we feel it will infringe on the fundamental rights of individuals to express their opinions, it is also important to realize whatever a citizen journalist put out there can be taken as gospel truth. This may adversely affect their attitude and life style. For instance, we have seen cases, where some gossip platforms spread rumour about someone’s death and it was later discovered to be untrue. We have also seen where people deliberately assassinate the characters of others just because they have unresolved issues with them. Where this is established, there is need to bring such online writer to book
Regulatory authority must be up and doing: in every country, there is a regulatory authority saddled with such duty. Many of these exist in paper without required tools to do their jobs or sometimes it is a case of wrong attitude, sentiments which prevent application of due punishment. Regulatory authorities need to be equipped to do their jobs, empowered with right tools that can help them nab every online writer at the source. This must include ability to trace scammers who use ‘fake’, or are hacking someone’s else Internet Protocol (IP) address
People need to do background check: today it is essential to do your background check on news you must chose to believe. It is not everything one sees online that one must believe otherwise individual mental health will be affected. By reason of association, antecedents, everyone must note online writers and avoid them like plague. It is not only that, Internet news consumers need to speak out against such writers/citizens journalists so that others may also journalists avoid them. There is a possibility of going beyond this by reporting such platform to Google. This should be the last option though as some may begin the process here just because they do not agree with a platform.