For a few decades, the modern media has transformed — and continues to transform — the manner in which people relate to their sources of formation and information. A study of the Jaume I University (in Castellón, Spain) affirms that 75% of young people between the ages of 16 and 30 use social media for information, and only 28% read traditional newspapers. The danger of obtaining information from these alternative sources is the well known fake news, false news that inundates the social media platforms and that fills the internet with “rubbish/garbage information”.
Fake news should not be confused with erroneous information. While these errors are inevitable and we all commit them, fake news attempts to manipulate and create confusion, doubt and concern. Indeed, its sole purpose is to shape public opinion and distort reality. It is easy to find fake news and, if we are not careful, we can become trapped in the chain that spreads it, promotes and shares it … and does all of this without passing it through the filter of truth. Ultimately, fake news is a malicious attack on truthfulness and forces us to “swim in the mud” of the Internet, with the danger that we ourselves become covered with mud and stain those people who are close to us.
Frederic Ozanam and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul were familiar with this type of attack and fake news. Two examples:
- In 1848, Frederic wrote an article in the newspaper l‘Ère Nouvelle [The New Era] an article entitled “The dangers of Rome and its hopes” which concluded with the phrase, “Let us pass over to the barbarians.” Those words caused quite a stir, not so much because of the content of the article, which was extremely reasonable, but because of the attacks that he received from people who did not take the time to know what Frederic meant when he wrote those words.
- In 1853, the Grand Duke of Tuscany did not authorize the establishment (in Florence) of a conference of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul because he had been falsely informed that the Society was composed of “people […] who had participated in the war of independence” (Amélie’s words). Frederic, already very ill, had to appear before the Grand Duchess to explain that the Society was a charitable organization which did not discuss political issues at their meetings.
Today, we experience a pandemic that has multiplied the appearance of false news around covid-19, some very serious and that have even led to deaths. Let us remember, to give a famous example, the unfortunate comment of President Trump on the “possible benefits” of injecting disinfectant: disinfectant knocks it (Covid19) out in a minute. And is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs — so it’ll be interesting to check that. … It sounds interesting to me. After this comment that has no scientific basis and that is in fact contrary to common sense, more than one hundred people were hospitalized after using some kind of a disinfectant. It did not matter that later the Trump alleged that he was being “sarcastic” … when dealing with sensitive matters was must be clear so that there is no margin for confusion.
Thousands upon thousands of pieces of fake news have been posted on the social networks about the COVID virus and its treatment. There are even people (denialists) who consider everything to be an international plot to control people, seeking to insert a chip into every human being! The stupidity of some people seems to be unlimited.
In light of this, we have to trust scientists and news from reliable channels which are providing us with the most appropriate data and guidance. They may be wrong at some point, in one or another situation, but we can be sure that they seek our good and that they want to bend the curve of the virus.
False news is omnipresent on the Internet and is not limited to the pandemic. They are everywhere and affect all the information that comes to us with regard to any topic. So let us be careful with fake news. Let us get accustomed to using reliable sources of information, and not to share information from unreliable sources which while being extremely surprising, nevertheless they appear to be false. Let us not be transmitters of fakes news. It is not difficult to recognize such news because it is usually fanciful, exaggerated and, yet so many times, it is also contrary to common sense.
 Casero-Ripollés, A. (2012) “Más allá de los diarios: el consumo de noticias de los jóvenes en la era digital” [Beyond the daily newspaper: the consumption of news by young people in the digital era], in Comunicar, nº 39, v. XX. Revista Científica de Educomunicación: ISSN: 1134-3478: páginas 151-158.