If you thought that fake news can be brushed off as a mere nuisance, please think again. On April 14, 2014, the terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria. Around the world, the crime became epitomized by the #BringBackOurGirls, yet in Nigeria, government officials called it fake. Even after Boko Haram had returned some of these girls (see photo, CNN.com), some still believed it was a hoax. At the end, this fake news delayed efforts to rescue the Chibok girls and may have even led to the tragic demise of some of them.
Fake news is dangerous and deadly. No wonder some countries are passing laws to fine those who circulate false information leading to “mass violation of public order”. Whilst this is an interesting development, too little attention has been given to the crux of the matter: why are some people so vulnerable to fake news?
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition may shed some light. Evidence is provided that delusion-prone individuals, narrow-minded individuals, and religious fundamentalists are more likely to believe fake news. The study suggests that the inability of people to detect false information is related to a failure to be actively open-minded and trusting. Interestingly, new research has shown that people who are accustomed to being lied to by people with political or religious authority, were especially prone to believing fake news.
So what does this mean for countries, including Curaçao, looking into ways to curb fake news? As I see it, the problem is the lack of trust. This is especially tue in Curaçao where statistics, scientific data, impartial Courts and hard evidence are put aside and the loudest shouters in the media and those with tons of followers on social media are considered heroes. Instead of asking tougher questions about the information received, these fake news believers take it at face value and spread it around as long as that piece of information mirrors their narrow-minded worldview. We are living in a “message forwarding culture” that creates more harm than good.
Fake news thrive on the internet and social media, but that’s certainly not where they were born. This year, the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, must be a reminder of how, not social media, but a radio station, Radio Libre de Milles Colines, fed the deep mistrust between the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s with incessant hateful disinformation leading to the slaughter of 800,000 people.
In Curaçao fake news is a daily occurrence that destroys private lives and impedes our ability to govern the island. Curiously, policy makers are either very concerned or nonchalant about fake news depending whether they are on the side of those being hurt or helped. Laws and regulations of the internet alone will not fix this problem. Tackling the lack of trust and overcoming hypocrisy, will.