‘Citizen journalist' online – your lack of expertise only spreads fake news

If you must share your views on everything, why not do what real journalists do — read up, verify, fact-check.

 |  3-minute read |   20-06-2018
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Social media, the leveler, the great equaliser. The stage for all the world. Our personal pulpit, woofer and amplifier.

The advent of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook has led to great democratisation of information. Instead of a few controlling its production and dissemination, everyone with a view now has a stage and an audience for it.

Stop adding to the ignorance and misinformation in the digital world. No, your twittering isn't always fun. Photo: Reuters

In theory, this is a great thing.

In practice, it is the steaming mess that social media is today, where truth and lies are a matter of personal preference, where freedom of expression is confused with freedom of exhortation to murder, and where nonsense masquerades as news, forming perceptions and shaping opinions.

Here are two facts: You are either a journalist, with training, experience, and editorial monitoring, or you are not. You are either an expert, with years of research and expertise in a field, or you are not.

Reporters spend hours, even years, at great personal risk to collect the information they put out. Photo: ReutersThe lady in the picture is a reporter. Can you really claim similar creds? Photo: Reuters

Just having an audience for your views does not give them greater legitimacy. In fact, it increases your responsibility to fact-check, to verify, to ensure the accuracy of what you put out into the world.

Not many today seem to do that.

No external authority should control what you post on social media, unless you are actively flouting laws. There is no formal process for certifying an “expert”. But you would know. You, better than anyone else, are aware if you are sufficiently well-versed in a subject or not. Even if no one else does, you know if you have fact-checked something before you put it out.

Reading three WhatsApp forwards and having watched a YouTube video once in college about something does not make you an "expert" on the Battle of Haldighati. The witty crack by a colleague you look up to is not sufficient grounds to criticise what the prime minister said.

A wisecrack by a colleague you think is smart is not enough grounds to criticise what the PM said. Photo: ReutersWhat? I said that? When? Photo: Reuters

There are very real, and very dangerous, consequences of what we do in the virtual world. People form opinions based on what they read on social media, which are then used for making important decisions – choosing the next government, shaping our interactions with those around us. If the opinions have been formed on ignorant half-truths and agenda-driven lies, the choices can be disastrously wrong. 

The much-maligned tribe of journalists is in fact trained to deal with information. A reporter spends hours, even years, often at great personal inconvenience and danger, to collect facts. There are tiers of verification before a news organisation puts something online. There are filters in place, so that one person’s biases do not colour the news posted. Also, they have personal stakes in ensuring what they put out is right — one instance of false reporting can cause a serious dent in credibility and reputation.

Experts — historians, economists, bureaucrats, servicemen — have first-hand knowledge of their field. They too have a reputation to protect over what they post.

The citizen journalist/armchair expert has nothing to lose. And hence, can easily be tempted to become cavalier with facts.

Also, there are many versions of the truth available on social media, and we tend to believe what we want to. We then proceed to repeat it, magnifying the chorus and making sure more people buy into it.

Then there is the temptation of commenting on something just because everyone else is. The focus here is on a convincing argument, a witty statement, and not necessarily on an accurate one.

Educate yourself before you inform others. Photo: APEducate yourself before you inform others. Photo: AP

If the Internet has expanded our reach, it has also brought us more sources of knowledge and information. If we want to air our opinion on subjects, we can always read up, fact-check, verify, and then share.

Or, we can leave it to those who have been trained to, and have the resources to, do so.

They are professionals for a reason.  

Also read: Why troll for a Lord Krishna painting with 'Eid moon' — and a show of harmony?



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