Psychologists have long argued that people are wired to believe what they want to believe. Parody accounts of news websites have figured this out and are preying upon this weakness. Even the most outrageous information tweeted by these parody handles is finding an audience as scores of people fall for it because the information is in line with their inherent biases.
Let us look at some of these handles and their tweet that people fell for:
CNN News I8
The twitter handle of now suspended @CNNNewsI8 looks identical to the original as many don’t figure out that the letter “I” has been used instead of the number “1” in its name.
Prominent right wing accounts have fallen victim to the tweets of this fake handle. A tweet that announced wedding bells for Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar saw many right wing twitterati falling over each other to retweet and comment on it. They found this “news” so utterly believable that they missed noticing that this handle only had 66 followers and unlike the real CNN News 18, it did not have a blue tick.
The handle has now changed its name to CNN News 69.
Even after a clarification by Mehr Tarar, the tweet withwith the fake news was shared over a 1000 times.
What’s hilarious is that people have actually reacted to a news from a parody account with 66 followers.
Amazing what people are ready to believe these days without even basic verification… https://t.co/KnfllztTCq
— Mehr Tarar (@MehrTarar) August 11, 2018
Here are some of those who fell for it.
That was not all. Yet another tweet of CNN Newsi8 saw OpIndia’s “neutral” @bhak_sala do a quick delete job of his tweet attacking “neutral journalists” who dared to question PM Modi.
When you are inclined to believe something, it is easy to overlook the extra “O” in the account that is impersonating India Today. The tweet also had grammatical mistakes that were missed by those who shared it believing it to be true.
Rakesh Khar of News18 was one of those who fell for this news but apologised later.
Sorry folks I retweeted what looked like the handle of a reputed media house,misled by the handle’s use of the official logo.I have since undone the RT.Thank you for pointing it out.
— Rakesh Khar (@rakeshkhar) August 12, 2018
Janta ka Reporter has company as in the past Aaj Tak has even broadcasted an evening show with imagery based on a tweet of this parody account.
Other eminent victims of Times How include Mohandas Pai and Madhu Kishwar.
Repubiic TV/ RepublicTV
Many have fallen victim to Repubiic TV including veteran journalist Kanchan Gupta who commended the channel only to learn that he had been fooled by a parody handle.
Fake news is no laughing matter as it was a tweet of a fake account impersonating Republic TV that led to trolling and systematic targeting of Rana Ayyub. The tweet falsely claimed that Rana Ayyub had defended child rapists.
Parody handles of news websites are yet another addition to the misinformation around us. These handles are designed to fool the readers who in their excitement over the news that confirms their biases, fail to notice that extra “O” or the missing “I” in the handle name. To make matters worse, these accounts use the original or similar looking logos of the news websites. Social media users need to be ever vigilant before they believe information they come across even from a seemingly credible source.