Combating fake news on social media

By Mohamed Kabba

Since the emergence of or citizen journalism on social media in Sierra Leone the issue of “fake news” or the unconfirmed circulation of messages on social media especially WhatsApp, in particular, has been a challenge to the mainstream media and the general public. During the election campaign, social media was overrun with fake news by politicians and their supporters in a bid to spread negative information about their opponents. Against that backdrop, a media empowerment group, the Initiative for Media Development (iMdev) has started fact checking fake news being spread on social media. With funds from the US Department of State, the project is expected to assist in combating fake news in Sierra Leone. The editor of Salone Fact Checker, Hassan Bangura, at their Signal Hill Road office in Freetown said, the youth population that is active on social media often misinform their readers, which has the tendency of creating tension and violence especially among the politically charged youth. Bangura said political parties have been using social media to magnify news and issues of national interest in a negative manner especially on social media. He said the platform is serving as a means of clarifying issues on social media especially those without any authenticity or face value. WhatsApp groups such as Red Wave Media and the Paopa Salone for Better Media, indicates propaganda, which may or may not be true

Assie Sheriff expressed fear and concern over the pace at which fake news is being circulated by members of the public especially on social media. She questioned the effectiveness of ‘Salone Fact Checker’ in responding to fake news in a timely manner that will be accepted by the public. Bangura said every week their journalists monitor social media postings on trending news looking at the verification of such postings. He said they often start their investigation on posts with the people involved, the issues raised and later cross check with authorities. Bangura said they will verify a conclusion to know if the news is ‘fake’ or ‘true’ because knowing the fact behind the posts is important and not always to ascertain the truthfulness.

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