Credible state sources vital in Egypt’s fight against fake news
False reports, untrue incidents and other rumors that grab the attention of many, both temporarily and instantaneously, but over time are discovered to be incorrect are all becoming increasingly common.
Rumors have long played an important role in our lives, whatever our education and awareness. They spread not only in backward societies, but in developed societies too — but the difference lies in the nature and type of rumor and their degree of accuracy. Today, they have become an industry and a science in their own right, and are carried out by large, specialized agencies.
Many academics and observers have blamed social media for the spread of rumors. Indeed, a study by the National Academy of Sciences in the US showed that people tend to communicate and share the news with those who agree with them through specific online pages, known as “echo chambers,” and then republish them without any doubts about possible errors.
In theory, with the rapid development of new means of communication, people expected the impact and spread of rumors to decline. But what has happened is the opposite: They are now produced faster and have become more widespread. Thanks to social media, people have become more eager to tell the news and more curious to know the unknown, in addition to a general moral decline. Technology allows rumors to be spread to all ends of the Earth in less than a second.
Despite the unreasonable nature of these reports and their demise in the face of the simplest attempt at refutation, they usually have thousands of likes and shares, which may be due to the political polarization that leads such groups to fabricate rumors that suit their audiences. It may also be due to the presence of a fertile ground ripe for spreading rumors.
In order for the NAS study to be useful, it is necessary to start with the definition of a rumor. It is a false news report that spreads rapidly and is circulated among the public, who believe it to be true. This news is always interesting and intriguing to a particular community, but it usually lacks a reliable source, which would ensure the authenticity of the news.
The lack of a climate of trust between people and the media is the main reason for the invention and propagation of rumors. Such reports emerge as a way of filling the information vacuum, and thus the emergence, spread and propagation of rumors has become normal.
Rumors have spread at an alarming rate in Egypt recently, with 21,000 fake reports recorded in just three months, according to a recent statistic from the official Information and Decision Support Center. However, what is more useful than just complaining about this phenomenon is studying it seriously to understand the reasons and not just pointing fingers at one party or group.
The Egyptian government’s habit of announcing increases in the prices of goods and services on Thursday every week makes citizens ready to receive bad news every Thursday
It is convenient for the Egyptian state to rely on the fact that its enemies are the ones who fabricate rumors and spread them on social media, where they find a great deal of resonance. But this is a big mistake because this phenomenon has multiple sources, and some of them are within the state itself. For example, the Egyptian government’s habit of announcing increases in the prices of goods and services on Thursday every week makes citizens ready to receive bad news every Thursday. This is a suitable opportunity for those who want to spread rumors or those looking for more likes and followers.
Although the aforementioned statistic — cited by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in one of his recent speeches — represents “a huge number,” according to Egyptian diplomat Fawzi El-Ashmawi, this proliferation is due to several things, including “the absence or delay of official accurate information that respects people’s minds.”
I think that the real problem lies in the weakness of government communication with citizens; the lack of confidence among many people in the wisdom of some officials because of their decisions and “sudden” statements; the fear of drawing information from the local media because of skepticism that it is politicized; and the ignorance of influential segments of the public of the methods of fabrication and verification of information, making the task of rumor-makers easier.
The credibility of information is the only way to block any rumor. But if this credibility is shaky, and as long as the media itself lacks vital information that citizens look for, the flow of rumors will continue to escalate. The widespread availability and circulation of trustworthy information is the only remedy for the spread of rumors.
Yes, rumors can destroy a country, help an army win a battle that appeared lost, or destroy the reputation of a person, but the seriousness of dealing with the phenomenon begins with studying it scientifically and accepting the fact that the source is not the only enemy, as some officials in the state bear an important part of the responsibility as well.
- Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy