Fake news, or false information disseminated by the media for over a dozen months, is a very popular subject. It’s worth taking a closer look at this phenomenon.
What are fake news sometimes called post-truth? In fact, the concept has not been well-defined yet. Mainly the information is willingly disseminated by the media, which unfortunately are not real. Why distribute them? Sometimes this is done for publicity and for gaining more audience and viewership (and this lead to higher earnings), and sometimes for political, economic or scientific benefits. Often, the beginning of the fake news is a simple joke, which, like a snow ball, turns from power and volume.
The goal of refining the definition can be based on the guidelines of the European Commission, which on April 26, 2018 in the Communication on Counteracting Disinformation on the Internet, the European Approach: COM (2018) 236 defines disinformation as verifiable false or misleading information created, presented and disseminated in order to obtain economic benefits or misleading public opinion that may cause public harm.
What is important, we also receive accurate guidelines, what are not fake news because disinformation does not include:
- reporting errors,
- satire and parody
- clearly marked biased messages and comments.
The spread of fake news was helped by social platforms, mainly Twitter (fake accounts) and Facebook (algorithm), which after some time of prosperity fixes its mistakes. In general, the concept of news fake began to appear in 2016 and culminated a year later (Google Trends). In 2018, thanks to the orderly activities of Facebook and changes to the algorithm, it lost some popularity. Mainly appeared in the context of negative influences on politics and elections. The most famous cases of fake news:
- about Donald Trump and his campaign and the presidential election won;
- Brexit referendum in Great Britain;
- Italian constitutional referendum and attacks on Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi;
- the presidential campaign of Alain Juppé in France;
- banknotes in India with face value of 2000 rupees invigilating citizens;
- Barack Obama and his prohibition of pledging allegiance to the flag in public schools throughout the country;
- the Croatian representation and the transfer of remuneration from FIFA to poor children;
- statement by Pope Francis on alleged support for Donald Trump.
And examples of fake news from our backyard:
- Agata Duda did not shake hands with Donald Trump;
- squirrel from Szczęśliwicki Park and LexSzyszko.
The peak of the popularity of fake news in 2017 is also confirmed by data drawn from media monitoring of Newspoint. The year 2016 did not abound in the mention of this phenomenon. It was not until December 2016 that we recorded less than 1000 mentions. The Extreme took place in July 2017 with more than 20,000 mentions. Currently, the situation is fairly stable and we have between 5,000 and 8,000 fake news entries per month.
Facebook does what it can and after just a few months of action you can see a light in the tunnel, and most importantly, users are more aware of the threats of finding untrue messages. The importance of organizations and publishers who enjoy the trust of recipients, carefully verifying news before dissemination, is growing. Of course, there are still no system or technological solutions. Systems that would verify the messages and serve those with a high probability of misinforming or even deceiving. Technical activities of the social platforms themselves are not enough. There is still too much space to manipulate.
Social media are increasingly being treated as one of the main sources of information. We trust the influencers who present and recommend products and services that they use. We have little time to thoroughly check the information we find in the media. There are no mechanisms for quality control of published information on social media platforms, which are valid in professional websites and news agencies. Bad and shocking messages propagate much faster than ordinary ones. We simply make them available more often. This is due to the issues of algorithms, which usually these controversial news give us at the very top of our news feed. There is also the problem of whipping accounts. It’s much easier to send fake messages from a fake account than under your name. In 2016, before US presidential elections, false bots accounted for over 18% of all posts on the election campaign. And this is one of the perfect recipes for fake news: self-quoting fake accounts.
In the context of the rapid spread of news fake, it is worth remembering that social networks were an example of a team model from the Military University of Technology, whose head was Professor Andrzej Najgebauer, called the CARE system (Creative Application To Remedy Epidemics). The research was carried out on how advertising or gossip spreads in the population. It turned out that there are very many similarities with the spread of an infectious disease epidemic.
Two types of networks have been distinguished: “small-world” and “scale-free”. Small world is based on the fact that each person is able to reach each other through no more than six hand hugs. Scale free occurs when someone has a lot of contacts, it is more likely to meet people and more likely to meet other people. Such a person is called in the so-called hub, or a node with a large number of direct connections with others. The creation of hubs has a big impact on the spread of information.
Spontaneously emerging social networks have the characteristics of “small world” and “scale-free” networks. Most criminal or terrorist organizations have such a character. Similarly with organizations spreading fake news. They are mobile and fast and can easily hide their activities in society.
Social network models are also used in marketing and advertising. Hubs and influencers can effectively influence the results and publicity of the campaign. And the most important are the network nodes that have the largest number of connections. Nodes are important, which do not have to have many direct connections, but are at the interface of social groups. Thanks to this, they can pass the information faster. The CERN system can search such people in large networks. This can be important both for the dissemination of the advertising message of the brand and for blocking fake news.
IAB Polska research of July 2018 – what Internet users think about it
At the end of 2017, IAB Polska carried out a CAWI research of Internet users aged 15+, about what Internet users think about fake news. The sample was representative in terms of age, sex and use of the network and consisted of 2090 people. The study asked, among other things, about the credibility and usefulness of communication channels in relation to news from the country and the world, the source of false information online and who most often disseminates untrue information. The study summary was published in July 2018.
Social media (over a half of respondents) were considered the main source of false information. Then, information portals (39%), video services (22%), entertainment services (14%) and communicators (8%). We do not trust social media in this context. Entries and social comments are the fastest way to spread fake news.
The respondents decided that the Internet users themselves (62%) often contribute to the dissemination of false messages. 39% blame websites’ editors and 27% think that specially trained people from abroad are behind this. These results well illustrate the problem of the phenomenon. Although the study shows that for the fake of news mainly the Internet users are guilty of it. fragmentation also gets to portals and information services.
An interesting aspect of the study was the question about the reliability and usefulness of communication channels. The decreasing press was considered the most credible – newspapers, radio, newspapers – magazines, private conversations, internet and television. So the press is considered the most credible and television is the least credible. As for the usefulness of the media, it definitely won the Internet, then newspapers and radio, magazines with television and finally our private conversations, as the least useful.
How to fight fake news?
In the report “Fake news, how a lie rules the world” developed by the Newseria news agency and the public relations advisory company Szapiro Business Advisory, we get very good advice to ensure that we are dealing with fake news:
- check the website’s URL, it is often similar to this trusted one;
- check the owner of the domain and the date of its registration – the latest ones may raise doubts (https://who.is);
- no bookmark about us and the editorial board;
- no quotes and quoted persons who represent different views;
- no data sources;
- no signature of the author of the text;
- no original photos;
- the existence of similar photos may indicate a fake news image;
- was the news published by other media? Most often, true information is raised by various editorial offices;
- check the author’s post on social media – it may be a fake account.
A good solution is to verify social media accounts. Verified user will not put the fake into circulation. With great caution, we will approach news released by people from unverified accounts. Fake account is easy to recognize if it was created quickly without much history, comments, photos and other interactions, or just with a non-statistical number of artificially created activities.
It is good practice to use video more often or check if the news contains such. Video is much harder to manipulate and it is too time-consuming and costly (although there is a tragic case of video fake from India about kidnappers of children who went on WhatsApp). Completely different from the article, blog entry or message on Facebook or Twitter.
Technicals and changes in website algorithms are a separate issue. We have already written about Facebook – the updates concern the logo display of publishers in newsfeeding, disabling the capability to edit headers, improving the ways of monitoring content, and reducing viral coverage of content. Google, on the other hand, tests the flagging of news in the search engine, which may be false. Twitter’s policy is completely different. “We do not intend to delete content based on the fact that they are untrue. One of the forces that Twitter has is a swarm of journalists, citizens, activists correcting the record, improving information. We are not the judges of the truth. I do not think that technology companies will decide during the election, which is true and what is not true, “said Nick Pickles, Head of Public Policy of British Twitter. On the other hand, Twitter has not changed its website API for a long time. New mechanisms capture identical content that is automatically sent from many accounts, which are very often fake. He also announced blocking users using bots and special programs for automatically publishing harmful content.
Is the downside of Facebook that the more he tries to stop fake news, the greater the expectations of society will be? Time will tell.
To fight fake news you should choose media monitoring tools. There you can easily find similar articles or entries in other sources. Stand-alone entries with surprising content will quickly appear suspicious. Additionally, you can check the author of the post and review his other publications.
Before we release further news about which we are not sure about its truth, let’s evaluate the risk. How much can it cost us to propagate a lie? Can we afford such a move. Or maybe it is better to consult with industry experts and opinions from the market?