Fake News, Satire and Why Sensational Headlines Keep Getting Ghanaians Fooled

“US Presidential Hopeful Donald Trump Calls Africans ”Lazy”

You probably saw the above headline either in your Facebook feed, your Twitter timeline or your WhatsApp group messages. Your first reaction was probably anger. You probably saw this headline, clicked the link, read the story and then decided to share it with your social network. Maybe you probably didn’t even read the story. You probably just shared the story, commented on the headline and moved on.

Just FYI, the story of Donald Trump calling Africans lazy wasn’t true. But the first time you saw it, you probably believed it was true and you most likely shared it.

So why do we keep falling for the same fake sensational headline on our social media platforms? Why do I keep seeing stories being shared by my friends which are totally fake?

We are now in the Information Age. We get our news from multiple sources on the internet and unfortunately, we tend to get overloaded to the point where we are now finding it hard to distinguish the real news from the fake news.

Back in the day, it was pretty easy to dismiss a story from the National Enquirer magazine and some celebrity magazines. But these days, it’s pretty hard to tell.

People still believe these headlines??

To add to the mix, Satirical articles are also blending in to the mainstream news and actually catching people off guard. In Ghana, it seems we have a hard time dealing with satire. I was actually saddened to see people tweet out the story with the headline “Ghanaian Government To Remove Pockets From Police Uniforms In Order To Curb Bribery and Corruption“. Most people actually believed the story was true!

The fact that people were actually commenting on it, thinking it was real, saddened me. All you had to do was check the source and you would see that the story came from a satirical website called “Screwlife“. If you visited that website, you could actually read in their “About Us” section that they write satirical stories and their stories are not real.

If you’ve ever read the Onion, you know that website us world class when it comes to satirical material.

The question is, will the average Ghanaian be able to distinguish real from satirical stories if they’ve never heard about the Onion?

Real or Fake story?

If you’re not sure about what you’re reading online, here’s a couple of tips on how to avoid and sport fake news and satire:

1. Check The Source

It’s really easy. Whenever someone posts an article that I find hard to believe, I check the source. If the source has a website, I check the website to see if it’s just a parody site or just a site that occasionally writes bogus stuff.

Unfortunately, some people don’t go that far. They see the headline and quickly share it and soon enough, you’re getting that WhatsApp message in the group texts, telling you that drinking milk causes cancer.

If you find a story in your social media feed that’s hard to believe, it’s probably not true or simply exaggerated.

2. Google Is Your Friend

If you see a news story you have hard to believe, simply Google the story to see if other credible news stories are reporting on it. There have many times when someone reports “Breaking News” and it turns out to be not true. If you’re not sure of the story, just check out news sites to confirm the story before sharing it. There’s no point in being the first to be wrong.

Take your time, get the facts and think twice before sharing an article to your social networks.

3. Be Open Minded

Yes. You need to be open minded if you want to spot fake news. We’re living in an era where things can be tense especially when it comes to politics. In Ghana, if you’re a NPP supporter, you can be easily fall for news headlines which state that the opposition party is conniving or stealing state resources when it’s not true. In fact, if you’re a member of the opposition, you might also feel the same thing if the story was reversed at pointing the finger at your political party.

You need to keep an open mind when you see those “NDC steals $100 million from state coffers stories” headlines. First of, you have to read the article and check its sources. Then you need to check other news sites to confirm if that story is real. Half of the time, the source is bogus and offers no evidence to prove that the story is real.

I see this happen often in WhatsApp groups where a story is shared and then the group which often share common interests, tends to believe that story hook, line and sinker, without actually questioning its authenticity.

Break out of that group mentality and do your own thinking. If you confirm that story is false, you need to voice your thoughts and tell the group that the story is not true. Or else, everybody spreads the false news and that doesn’t help anybody.

You Don’t Have To Be Quick On The Trigger

Sometimes, there is a tendency to want to share news as quickly as possible to your social networks. Being “first” and getting attention is understandable but you could just end by being the “first” to be wrong.

Social media has made us somewhat lazy. We tend to comment on headlines instead of the actual story (See post about online commenting on Ghanaian websites and blogs). It’s a habit we all have and it’s understandable in this age of so much information. But it’s a habit we need to try and break.

As Ghanaians, we may also need to understand the concept of “Satire“. I have seen people post very strong comments about satirical political pieces. Even when someone tries to correct them, you don’t let up because they’re caught up in the emotion.

Don’t fall for stuff from the Onion. It’s all satire!

So the next time you see that article or rumor which says that “Bawumia Steals $20 million from Bank Of Ghana” or “Trump Insults President Of Nigeria“, you might want to check out the story first before sharing that article.