What is in our lives these days without social media? It seems that unless we post and share information and photos of our success, the success doesn’t feel real. When a particular post gains more ‘likes’ than expected, we feel appreciated and to be honest, a little attention on social media goes a long way! But the problem arises when some users who are not journalists or even affiliated with the media, create stories out of thin air and start circulating them over social platforms as news. The fabricated stories baffle, amaze, shock and move the users as they start adding more twists of their own to the stories. One may ask, so when did stories become hazards? They do when they pose as news because news is based on facts where as stories are mere opinions or personal thoughts.
We are still grieving from the Chawkbazar fire tragedy and while we are aware that families have lost their loved ones and valuable properties, there are some death stories which are being questioned for authenticity. For example, one particular couple where the wife was pregnant died together because the husband stayed back with her. Every time this heart wrenching news was posted, readers were almost in tears. However, recently the authenticity of this incident is being questioned because if they both had died in the fire, who informed others of their plight? And why aren’t any family members speaking about it? Those who have really lost their family members are talking about it, providing their DNA samples etc.
We do like a bit of interesting story while reading but we have to understand that while news can be made interesting but it can’t be false or rather, it can’t be falsified. In that case, it’s better to take everything with a grain of salt. But the question still remains, how to differentiate between news and fabricated stories? There are many ways and depending on the readers’ capacity, they will vary but some easy ways to know what is not news is that stories usually don’t have sources. For example, there are no expert opinions or even statements from witnesses. On the other hand, news will contain facts and being carefully created pieces by real journalists, they will try to tell more about the incident rather than simply banking on the readers’ emotions. A news will usually follow a 5W and 1H pattern (who, what, when, where, why and how). If closely observed, regardless of different house styles, every piece of news follows a similar pattern and although the degree of emotions in the writing varies, news has a formal tone. Contrarily, stories are more eye catching and may contain gory or more emotion evoking pictures.
It’s obviously not fair when someone fabricates a story and tries to manipulate readers by spreading it on social media when reporters and editors are working hard to provide authentic news to readers around the world. But here is where our responsibilities as social media users come in. Simply because a friend or a colleague messaged or shared something on their account, we don’t have to follow the same trend because our wrong steps may further worsen the situation. In this day and age it is very easy to open fake websites and post fake news because pictures can be changed and of course, information can be thoroughly manipulated.
What do we do then? Before calling something news we must check its source and carefully go through it. Jumping into conclusions and creating uncalled for panic and anxiety is not right. People have died and riots have ravaged villages and towns simply because a fabricated piece of writing was passed around as news. Every one of us must take responsibility for passing around news without knowing its origin because our actions may trouble others.
The Chawkbazar tragedy was a grave incident and we mourn it as a nation. If we just think for few seconds of the pain and sense of loss the victims’ families are now going through, maybe it will stop us from sharing fake news related to it. We are what we eat and we also are what we post and share on social media. Our likes, dislikes, preferences etc are well reflected through what we post. So it is up to us to inspect the information, understand its priority, understand its impact on others and then share it.

The writer works at Bangladesh Post