Rumours, Lies, Social Media

In modern times, with the abundance of information pouring in from every direction and propagated by everyone, it has become nearly impossible for one to know which one is genuine and which one is not.

Recent software technology advancements in photoshopping, sound and video edition and the hardly regulated social media have not come without detriments.

One can easily instill delusion, stir up the confusion, destroy mutual trust and instigate conflict among people and create chaos just by deliberately pouring lies over and over into the minds of gullible crowds.

It was an incident with a person whom I met in social media that motivated me to raise this issue here.

There was a photo of dead bodies, including children, which was propagated by some websites that were already known for their fake and poisonous news.

This very person and I were having a healthy argument over the current issues of our country until, to my surprise, he brought the picture as a shred of evidence to support his “rumour has it” kind of argument.

It took me a moment to look at the picture and cross-check whether it was fake or authentic.

With the help of Google’s “image search” facility, it was easy to know that the picture was taken years ago in another African country.

When I tried to tell him that his evidence was not what he thought it was, he would not believe me, and hell broke loose.

I became terrified thinking that there might be many others who held a grudge, deluded by that simple picture.

Not only such old pictures which were taken from other websites, but also photoshopped images, edited vocal recordings, and blurred videos have been used to mislead people.

I just mentioned one single incident, but propagating lies and rumours have been knitted with a purl stitch in the Ethiopian culture.

There is this culture of being easily swayed by a single source of information, and hence fact-checking has been a rare thing, as it would take time and effort; now getting worse with the fast expansion of the Internet and social media.

Rumour is contagious, and it not only perpetuates through the gullible society until someone takes the burden of cross-checking but also changes in content at every step.

The symbiosis of rumour and credulity is beyond imagination.

In these times, one irresponsible person can incubate a series of fake news and influence many via social media.

Hatred and racism are among the ‘top-notch’ and sensitive packages propagated by gullible social media users.

So, what is the panacea for this?

What can be done to stop being a fertile ground for irresponsible puppeteers who invoke our demise?

I would say cultivating the habit of fact-checking, scepticism and scientific reasoning can be a great help.

Questioning elusive evidence, knowing how to cross-check the news, how to choose a genuine and well-known media for a source of information, and mastering how to spot a fallacy in arguments are proven methods of reducing a confusion and easing the formidable hurdle of whom to trust.

One can arm himself with the compact “nonsense-busting and critical thinking” rules of the venerable American scientist Carl Sagan, which he calls “baloney detection kit.”

Media experts agree on one thing. For everyone not to fall into the snares of the deceivers, when one comes across two very opposite reports about the same event or two extreme views about the same situation, the first thing that is best to do is to avoid any emotional attachment with any of the sources.

Getting news which resembles what one thought or what one expected about a particular situation is too seducing to the extent of persuading to stop exerting any further effort to cross-check what was heard or read.

Assuming everything could be total nonsense, trying to confirm from other additional sources, or additional views should be the first move.

Blessed are not those who believe without evidence!

By Tsegazeab Shishaye
Tsegazeab Shishaye is an electrical engineer by profession and is interested in social issues, Ethiopian history, science and ideas that aim at changing the sequel. He can be reached at

Published on Jun 17,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 894]



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