The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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TMID Editorial: Spreading rumours

Tuesday, 25 June 2024, 09:53 Last update: about 22 days ago

Spreading false rumours has become so very easy in this day and age.

The use of social media means someone can spread false information or a rumour with ease. An example of fake news was seen just recently.

The rumour that a Gozitan butcher was using cat and dog meat in Maltese sausages made the rounds. A prominent NGO also fell for the rumour.

It spread like wildfire, to the point that everyone was talking about it. But, no evidence that Maltese sausage was being produced illegally was found, the government said in a statement Saturday, confirming what this newsroom had already reported a day earlier, that the allegations were untrue.

In its statement Saturday, the Animal Welfare Ministry said that after allegations made on the social media, a team made up of the police, veterinary services and environmenal health officers carried out inspections in various sites in Gozo. No evidence was found that Maltese sausages were being produced illegally, the government said, adding that such inspections are carried out regularly.

The government said that investigations into the allegations made continue. While urging consumers to purchase their products from authorised establishments and for people to report any illegalities, the government also called for a stop to the spread of fake news that could throw bad light on Maltese and Gozitan products.

What happened last week should act as an example of how easy it is for fake news to spread on social media. Of course it is good that the authorities investigated the matter, and they absolutely must investigate when such allegations arise.

It has become too easy for fake news to spread. Nowadays, the technology exists to even fake videos and not just images, and with AI technology becoming increasingly more advanced, who knows how much easier it will be for news which appears real, but is actually fake, to spread.

This is where the importance of fact-checking comes in. One cannot take what is said on social media at face value. Always question, And then proceed to check. 

The basis of the work of traditional news media is to seek the truth. One thing that we do to achieve that goal is, of course, check.  In the case of the butcher incident, the traditional media reported that an investigation was ongoing, which was the case, and then that the authorities found no evidence – those were the facts.

But even journalists are human, and they can also make a mistake or could fall for a fake news story. Let alone people who’s job isn’t the news, who doesn’t have it drilled into them to check and double check.

With so much information being bombarded over social media today it is becoming necessary for all people to become more savvy in the way people consume information online. Especially as some people prefer to get their news from their own social media feeds, rather than news media sources.

When using social media, it is important to always double check the information one is receiving. Who is delivering that information and why, is it being reported on trustworthy sites which aren’t just social media, what was the context of something being said, the list goes on. Social media plays an important role in all our lives, and we must all continuously improve our online literacy, in the sense that we must learn to weed out what is false from what is true.

When it comes to false news, one must also not just consider a rumour spiralling out of control. There are those who would maliciously want to spread fake news to, for instance, make something that is outright wrong look not so bad, or to try and trap people into sending money to malicious sites. Some of these malicious people would go so far as to clone websites, to make them look identical to others, as happened in Malta, where some local news sites were spoofed by such people. The trick here is to check the URL for instance, which would show whether a website is fake.

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