Event Reports

Not all glittering online followers are gold

What if that glamorous social media influencer with 30 million followers on twitter and 10 million likes and retweets on all their posts, the one whose pictures are always trending (never mind that they look quite ordinary), what if that person and more than half of their followers were in fact fake, fabricated, ghosts?

What if that juicy story from your trusted news media house, the one about a dead president or a famous city pastor who stole the tithe or the blind FIFA referee at the 2018 world cup in Russia was actually false, albeit the clear newspaper logo and tagline.

If you knew they were false, fabricated, deliberately designed to mislead you, would you share them with your contacts; would you retweet the false media influencer’s posts, would you be quick to click like?

The answer to that is most likely a ‘no’ for most people, and yet every day, millions of social media users like, forward as received and retweet false information like they have been paid to do so.

The reason, ‘’I didn’t know it was fake’’ or “It looked so real.” Well, death to ignorance about online manipulation and disinformation. Pleading ignorance about disinformation and fake news is no longer enough; one must look out for the warning signs and educated themselves about how to spot fakes.

This was the message contained in Nendo CEO Mark Kaigwa presentation on tools, traps and tricks of online manipulation and the science of digital disinformation. Like most topics at the KAS Uganda Social Media Conference held on 28 June 2018, this too, was a hands-on session.

“Very few people buy the physical version of newspapers, they read online versions. So fake news publishers simply make carbon copies of the real paper and then change the headline and stories or mimic their websites. And unfortunately, many readers fall for it.”

If you consider yourself a responsible social media user, you will heed Kaigwa’s counsel to stop, reflect and verify before you click, like, retweet or forward information obtained online.

You can also look out for tell-tale signs of fake information such as typos, wrong logos, and verify website Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). That way, you won’t be duped.

And, always have your skepticism lens on to spot the fake social media influencer with a boisterous account and following, because while some genuinely have a huge following, many don’t. Kaigwa calls these false amplifiers.

“This is basically registering fake accounts to build up an arsenal of people who can make things trend, buying likes and retweets to boost one’s social media accounts.”

Fortunately, despite all the scheming, there are ways to counter manipulation. Kaigwa shared some.

•Don’t forward as received.

•Use Google reverse image search to verify the source of photos online.

•Distrust Screenshots. They are very easy to manipulate. If they look sensitive, find a way to verify.

•Find out if someone has social media bots. Visit their profile and their followers to see if they are legit.

•Use certified fact checkers like Africacheck.org and Pesacheck.org

When all is said and done, the best you can do is maintain a high level of skepticism in regard to online information because as it turns out, not everything you see online is what it seems.

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