The dangerous power of 'Fake News'

What you need to know:

  • Fake News is false or misleading information presented as news. The term was first used in the 1890s when sensational reports in newspapers were common

In the mid 1980s The Sojourner used to frequently visit Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. This was on account of my business and official connection with the city, and also its being a few hours drive from Arusha, where I was and still is based.

Whenever I was there I used to stay at the New Stanley Hotel in the busy central business district of Nairobi. I loved the hotel with its many modern facilities including a roof top swimming pool and magnificent rooms with stunning city views.

It was during one of these visits that I was forced to seek the services of a shoe shiner who was strategically stationed near the maim entrance to the hotel.

He, one Kamau, did a wonderful job at cleaning and shining my black shoes as I sat perched on a stool infront of him. Things began to go awry when I asked to pay for the service.

Kamau simply produced a printed and laminated sheet with the shoe shining rate of equivalent to Sh 8000. This turn of events naturally produced a heated argument which was eventually solved by the Hotel Assistant Manager and I eventually paid a reduced rate of an equivalent rate of Shs 2000.

Kamau's argument was; why I could not trust his initial rate. "Can't you see it is printed?" he argued. To him the mere fact that it was on a printed sheet it was the ultimate authority and fact.

And this is what we are presently confronted with what has become popularly known as 'Fake News'. Presently both the impact of fake news and the use of the term has become widespread. People fall for fake news because it is simply printed and/or produced through media outlets and through the widespread prevalence of the Internet and social media. New information and stories are published constantly and at a faster rate than ever, often lacking in verification, which may be consumed by anyone with Internet connection.

Fake News is false or misleading information presented as news. The term was first used in the 1890s when sensational reports in newspapers were common.

The prevalence of Fake News has increased with the rise of social media and this misinformation is gradually seeping into the mainstream media. It also particularly has the potential to undermine trust in serious media coverage.

Unbelievably it has a long history. During the 1st Century BC, in the Roman Empire, one Octavian ran a campaign of misinformation against his rival, Mark Antony, portraying him as a drunkard, a womaniser and a mere puppet of the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra VII.

He published a document purporting to be Mark Antony's will, which claimed that Mark Antony, upon his death wished to be entombed in the mouselium of the Plotemaic Pharaos. Forged as it was, the news invoked outrage from the Roman populace.

Mark Antony ultimately killed himself after the defeat in the battle of Actium upon hearing further false rumours (fake news) propagated by Cleopatra herself that she had committed suicide.