How to address fake news in environmental conservation

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So many times we come across news or alerts from the media perpetrating certain events or circumstances only to later realise it was all untrue. This has been advanced by the availability of an internet connection added by the vigour to expose all the wrongs. Globally, this affects many platforms from politics to financial to normal social issues and even conservation. All fake news, otherwise known as alternative news, does is propagate and spread false agendas. Fake news is not something new as it has been there for centuries. Basically, it is a form of giving people what they want to hear whether it is true or not. In the end, the message is passed, especially in wide circles, as individuals chose to propagate the alternative information.

However, in a situation where alternative news could actually break conservation adding mistrust among stakeholders, what can we do to address it? It is important to note that fake news only spreads because of it’s surprising or overly disgusting nature. When we had the 2017 general elections, the rate of alternative news that was spread was so high. This saw a lot of fact-checking mechanisms being discussed and this issues were even a morning news briefing discussion. Some false news even made it to the dailies asserting how far such atrocities may go when they are unchecked. This resulted in a built up or mistrust for certain politicians and political parties.

Lately, in the conservation arena, I have been observing a lot of news coming in from various platforms that are actually untrue. Conservation comes with land and issues with land is not anything to take lightly in this country. One minute a war could erupt just because a certain community is being misguided in terms of communal land ownership. Another instance would assert the presence of a foreign party, not a community member or even a Kenyan, claim they own the community land all in the effort of said conservation. This can be done without having done any proper communication with the community.

In spite of the issues and knowledge that is slowly cropping up in the conservation arena, we need to be aware of it all and have the facts within ourselves. This is more so important for a generation that will be next stakeholders of many conservation entities. How can we choose not be misguided by just one false statement that could erupt causing fears and increasing mistrust in conservation organisations? It is important that we be the leaders today before we even get to that next step by confirming any news before we choose to share it with others. The back starts with us, especially because youth are more technologically survey than the generation before us.

We should always fact check everything. This is a very simple task but sometimes when we get something we want to feel like we were the first to know. But, what good does it do to anyone? Always go the extra step to confirm whether the story being spread is true. There are several tools one can use. Does the information come from a credible source? (This entails having a knowledge or doing proper research of all media platforms web links.) Does the information have credible allegations especially in terms of organisations being mentioned (are they spelt correctly, has an individual’s name is spelt correctly with his or her designation?) Evaluate every single sentence. You can also take a screenshot and send it to someone you know connected with the incidence or fact-checker through social media, and ask if they have any advice or knowledge on it and whether or not this can be believed. For images, one can fact check the image using Google’s reserve image search by copying and pasting an image into Google Image search to see where else the image shows up. Do not be fooled by alternative news.

With the many hidden agendas in conservation, it is important to be alert at all times. Not because you want to be spreader of the message but because as a person whose interests are in conservation it is important to note that just like other fields, competition of resources will still exist. Therefore, to prevent unnecessary strife, be alert always. We lose as conservationists when we choose to side-line other parties for not doing their part yet when called upon excuses build up. We also lose when we only have our own interest rather than the entire human race, who are a part of nature. at heart. Being alert to all conservation news that we get sets you apart from only being a one-sided person. You become neutral to whatever information, no matter how trivial, that will cross your path.

If you are a person interested in conservation, spreading alternative news should not be even a thought. I have fallen victim to spreading false information myself and faced the consequences. Therefore, as an individual, it is important to think through the information before acting out of an emotional state of mind.

It starts with you. Do your detective work.

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Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui is a believer in all things beautiful. A believer in spreading information in regards to environmental awareness. A believer in sharing all that is good in Kenya's natural world. A believer in speaking truth with no boundaries. Do you have a story, photo, experience or message you need to share? Send your work to vicki@nyikasilika.org or vickiwangui26@gmail.com.

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