One Direction member drops out of the band to become a monk! Oh wait...

Liang Hwei  |  Singapore
Published 2014-09-25 13:00:00

On September 22, The National Report published an article announcing that Facebook will begin charging users for their service, effective from November 1. This was met with a barrage of angry responses on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. However, it turns out that this is just a hoax, and according to Snopes, a guide to Internet rumours and hoaxes, this hoax has been circulating as early as 2009.

Just yesterday, we also announced another hoax which led to some unfortunate human beings putting their brand new iPhone 6 into a microwave in an attempt to charge them. Hoax perpetrators 4chan did a similar one last year as well, when they convinced the world that the new iPhone 5 was waterproof, leading to disastrous and waterlogged results.

The world is full of hoaxes and fake news, and sadly, they are able to get attention because the news was crafted for the sole purpose of getting attention. While some news pieces are obviously fake, like the #AppleWave news, others tend to become too realistic. In 2012, China’s People Daily took the Onion’s announcement of Kim Jong Un as Sexiest Man Alive for 2012 seriously, publishing the article on their English language website, with a 55-photo slideshow of Kim riding a horse through North Korea.

Can Facebook Pick The Needles From The Metaphorical Haystack?

Image Credit: EnableEducation.com
Image Credit: EnableEducation.com

If you’re reading this right now, you’re probably one of the many people who gets at least a portion of their news from online sources. In this very moment, there are over a billion unique websites being accessed, which, according to Internet Live Stats, is a new milestone that was just reached this month.

If you need an idea of how much data you’re taking in daily: According to Dr. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” we process an equivalent of 174 newspapers of data daily. Harvard Business Review released a report in 2012 that stated that 2.5 exabytes (19 million times the largest iPhone 6) of data are created each day and this number is doubling every 40 months or so.

With this much data scrolling before your eyes from search engines like Google; social media channels like Facebook and Twitter; or just any news website or advertisement, it becomes harder and harder to decipher what news is reliable or even fundamentally true. And it is under the cover of this barrage of news that hoaxes can become viral news, and satirical news gets taken seriously.

This is not an old problem. In fact, people have been questioning the existence of the internet’s horrible hoax news industry. With Facebook becoming one of the main sources of news online, people are looking to the social media giant to be the curator that controls the news we read.

Image Credit: Forbes
Image Credit: Forbes

In August, Facebook announced that it was testing a satire tag that could help differentiate satirical news from the actual news. This tag will only appear in the ‘Related News’ column below a link, notifying interested readers that the outrageous content presented is not real. However, it won’t keep satirical news or hoaxes from being posted in the timeline, giving every internet user the right to continue ‘trolling’ their friends with fake news.

However, while it would be able to pick out intentionally satirical news, like the ones on popular satire news website The Onion, it won’t protect us from the internet.

Earlier this week, Emma Watson was in the internet spotlight for her moving speech on gender equality at the UN #HeForShe Human Rights Campaign. It was an important speech, with Watson making a stand that gender equality is less about man-hating and more about basic rights for all people. This important speech was quickly shrouded by news that a website supposedly created by controversial community 4chan that threatened to release Watson’s nude photos to the public.

Image Credit: EmmaYouAreNext.com
Image Credit: EmmaYouAreNext.com

Just yesterday, the Independent broke the news that the website was just an elaborate marketing ploy supposedly held to rally people against 4chan. While it succeeded in getting attention out of the metaphorical haystack, it brought a whole slew of played emotions, an overshadowing of what could have been an important rallying point for gender equality, and, once again, compromised quality of online information.

Entertainment Or Hazard?

The satirical news industry is huge, showing that the internet just loves its hoaxes and fake news. The Onion has around 13 million unique visits a month. If the new [Satire] tag takes off, it may mean that The Onion’s articles, along with other satire articles, will have their edges dulled. Some part of us will definitely miss it. If anything, satirical news is the kind that makes us stop in our rapid processing of data and go – wait, really?

Image Credit: The Wire
Image Credit: The Wire

Being bombarded by data continuously every day can be tiring, and hoaxes and fake news allows us to stop and appreciate the different types of people there are in the world beyond our tiny laptop screen. Yes, these different types of people will likely believe that iPhones may be microwavable or that Sarah Palin is likely to get a new job with Al Jazeera, but it is a reminder that the internet is full of different people who think in ‘different’ ways is nice, if not hilarious.

However, internet hoaxes and marketing ploys like EmmaYouAreNext.com will slip through the [Satire] cracks. They are successful mainly because people are deceived and emotions are played with, and will continue to stay that way despite any advancements in Facebook curation. The more the internet is able to hide fake information amidst real ones, the more people are going to get hurt.

Putting an iPhone in a microwave is already potentially dangerous. It could have caused a mini explosion in people’s homes, or a house fire. If the internet decides to spurn out another ‘hilarious’ hoax to convince people to do something worse, what will we be able to do about that? Tweet about it?

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