The rapid spread of ‘fake news’ has come to define the current information space. The advent of new information distribution technologies, global media arms race and people’s thirst for sensationalism have made this phenomenon seemingly omnipresent. Mass media, the largest online platforms and public organisations are already coming up with various countermeasures.
Today, most fake news is driven by an agenda:
- Hoaxes are still spread via the so-called yellow press, now joined by disposable temporary websites that make up loud headlines to attract ad revenue.
- A number of countries have adopted fake news as propaganda tools, with politicians and political strategists wielding them to steer public opinion.
The purveyors of fake news can directly misinform the public or use fake social media accounts to artificially inflate the relevance of a published piece with likes and reposts. In a race to be the first to get the “hottest” story, even major publications let some false information slip through the cracks.
- According to a 2016 Gallup poll, the trust that US citizens have in media for reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history.
The overabundance of media disinformation is largely dictated by the behaviour and interests of today’s audience.
- For example, an Ipsos Public Affairs poll conducted for BuzzFeed News in December 2016 found that 75% of American adults who saw a fake news headline on the election race viewed the story as accurate.
- BuzzFeed News reports that 23 of the top-performing fake news hoaxes on Facebook in 2017 accounted for 10.6 million of the 21.5 million total shares, reactions, and comments.
Publishers have already begun to fight back against fake news by joining their fact-checking efforts instead of competing for the biggest story.
- These checks use Google Maps and satellite images, weather reports, photo and video upload history, unique video IDs and image metadata. Information source contacts are preferable.
- Media giants now view fact-checking as a separate function, with BBC setting up a team to debunk fake news in January 2017.
- Facebook and Google, whose rise to the global stage was the main factor in laying the technological foundation for the “social media journalism” boom, are implementing systems for users to report dubious content or verify it as reliable. Facebook has started flagging questionable news and introduced a function for users to report bogus stories. It is also strengthening account protection and implementing technologies for weeding out fake news. Google has launched Fact Check in Google Search and News. Searches now return links that, if fact-checked, have a respective label and a comment displaying the fact-checker and the rating (True – False, Mostly True – Mostly False, etc.). Facebook and Google, along with over 40 news outlets, are backing a verification platform called CrossCheck that will help readers find reliable sources of information.
Amid the concerns over the spread of fake news, the global community is working to identify the general approach to this issue.
- In March 2017, the representatives of the UN, OSCE, OAS, and ACHPR came out with a Joint Declaration that addresses the growing prevalence of fake news, disinformation and propaganda. They discussed the deliberate dissemination of false information, noting the risk that efforts to counter it could lead to censorship and suppression of critical thinking, and lamenting the lack of accountability of media intermediaries and the excessive blocking of websites by governments.
- In Russia, the fight against fake news is mainly within the purview of independent activists. Also, in February 2017, the Russian Foreign Ministry website opened a section devoted to fake news with pertinent examples and assessment of disinformation.