Just the other day the social media went abuzz with ‘news’ that former finance minister AMA Muhith had to seek intervention of the law enforcement to remain in his own house as his son did not want him there.
It all started when an expatriate journalist living in Australia posted on his Facebook profile the ‘tragedy of a former minister’ who was not welcome to stay at his own house after retirement, as his son and his family got all too comfortable in that place, residing there for years.
The minister sought the help of some top government officials who, with the support of the law enforcement, helped him assert his ownership of the place, according to that Facebook post.
Soon after this status was posted, people started sharing it, but not without editing it as they wished. Someone claimed it was about Muhith and people, without verifying the authenticity of the claim, started sharing that, too.
Many even went on to say that this was a punishment for his failure to contain rampant corruption in the economic sector, which ruined many families.
The next day, posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar slammed people who shared that multiply altered post. He also went on to explain why that had nothing to do with Muhith.
Some of the top officials of the government also warned people against sharing these ill-founded stories.
Now we do not know if the story mentioned in that post by the journalist living in Australia was fact or fiction. This can very well be the story of another minister and this can also be just a short piece of fiction.
One may wonder why people put Muhith’s name in their posts when the original post did not mention any name. Any sane person would deduce that it was intentional.
Some of the media houses were quick to make it news and they published it on their websites to get some extra hits.
I asked a few people about the source of the information, and they all said they have collected it from 'someone'.
“Nowadays newspaper circulation has nosedived. As a result, people are following news sites more than ever. Ironically, with more people turning to internet for news, fake news has also seen a rise,” said Marzia Rahman, a lecturer at Dhaka University’s Department of Mass Communication and Journalism.
“They prey on the readers by feeding them stories that are usually close to the heart. Like a few months back a story that said a civil servant left his mother on the streets went viral. But soon it was found that the report was fabricated,” she added.
“People here lack the basic knowledge of media literacy. As a result, they do not know what they should trust or what they should not share,” said Redwan Ahmed, a freelance journalist and the founder of Shotorko, a platform promoting fact-checking.
However, a sane mind may also think that some of those people who shared the fabricated information also did not apply their ‘common sense’.
The media outlets that fell victim to the hoax, on the other hand, did not apply their journalistic basics. Instead of verifying the authenticity, they wanted to the first in the race to ‘break’ the news, a plan that soon fell flat.
Journalists have more responsibility in the battle against misinformation, but when they fail on this front, that only makes the situation worse.
It is high time some of them learnt their lesson.