Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread mostly via social media, and periodically through traditional print and broadcast news media. Fake news is another term for fabricated news. These types of news are not grounded in facts. Although governments and agencies have used propaganda during the World War II to deceive the opponent, it was not a commonplace practice. However, in recent years the prevalence of concocted news has increased, and its impact have been heavily felt across societies making it a household name. Interestingly, United States President Donald Trump has added a dimension to the definition of the term to mean the accurate news they don’t like. Trump confirmed this interpretation of fake news as negative news about himself in a tweet on May 9, 2018.
Objective of fake news
Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically. They are often used to increase readership, online sharing, and Internet click revenue.
Types of fake news
Claire Wardle who wrote First Draft News identifies seven types of fake news:
- satire or parody (“no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool”)
- false connection (“when headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content”)
- misleading content (“misleading use of information to frame an issue or an individual”)
- false context (“when genuine content is shared with false contextual information”)
- imposter content (“when genuine sources are impersonated” with false, made-up sources)
- manipulated content (“when genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive”, as with a “doctored” photo)
- fabricated content (“new content is 100% false, designed to deceive and do harm”)
How to identify fake news
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) published a summary to assist people in recognizing fake news. Its main points are:
- Consider the source (to understand its mission and purpose)
- Read beyond the headline (to understand the whole story)
- Check the authors (to see if they are real and credible)
- Assess the supporting sources (to ensure they support the claims)
- Check the date of publication (to see if the story is relevant and up to date)
- Ask if it is a joke (to determine if it is meant to be satire)
- Review your own biases (to see if they are affecting your judgement)
- Ask experts (to get confirmation from independent people with knowledge).
Examples of fake news
US presidential election campaign 2016
During the 2016 United States presidential election, the creation and coverage of fake news increased substantially. A 2018 study by researchers from Princeton University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Exeter has examined the consumption of fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. The findings showed that Trump supporters and older Americans (over 60) were far more likely to consume fake news than Clinton supporters. Those most likely to visit fake news websites were the 10% of Americans who consumed the most conservative information. There was a very large difference (800%) in the consumption of fake news stories as related to total news consumption between Trump supporters (6.2%) and Clinton supporters (0.8%).
The study also showed that fake pro-Trump and fake pro-Clinton news stories were read by their supporters, but with a significant difference: Trump supporters consumed far more (40%) than Clinton supporters (15%). Facebook was by far the key “gateway” website where these fake stories were spread, and which led people to then go to the fake news websites. Fact checks of fake news were rarely seen by consumers, with none of those who saw a fake news story being reached by a related fact check.
Fake news during demonetization in India
On November 8, 2016, India established a 2,000-rupee currency bill on the same day as the Indian 500 and 1,000 rupee note demonetisation. Fake news went viral over Whatsapp that the note came equipped with spying technology that tracked bills 120 meters below the earth. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley refuted the falsities, but not before they had spread to the country’s mainstream news outlets.
Means of spreading fake news
Fake news has always been spread by word of mouth. Early human populations were sparse. The spread of news was limited. Over time, populations grew and become sedentary. This made it easier to spread news. As populations became literate, the means to spread news diversified. Technological innovations increased the speed by which news could travel.
Social media has contributed greatly to the success of fake news. Fake news is nowadays spread through all social media like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter. YouTube is another platform where there is too many fake news appear without any filter.
Social networks connect us with other like-minded people. Our networks of ‘friends’ on Facebook, or ‘followers’ on Twitter, generally consist of people who share our values and beliefs. These values may be social, political or economic, and the information we share through these networks helps to define who we are and what we believe in.
This identity is then reinforced the more we read similar news stories shared through our social network, confirming our ideas and biases. And herein lies the underlying force that propagates false information and further polarises society’s partisan.
Impact of fake news
According to Damian Collins, Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the increase of fake news is ‘a threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general’. With fake news sites increasing their revenue through digital advertising, the credibility of media organisations and public trust in journalism is under threat.
The spread of fake news accelerated dramatically during the 2016 US Presidential Election campaign. Groups of teens in Macedonia were found to have been intentionally creating pro-Trump fiction, profiting from their ‘shareability’. A Russian propaganda group was found to have been creating pro-Trump fake news to give the impression that there was a strong grass-roots movement legitimately supporting his campaign. The influence of these activities is hard to quantify, but the emergence of fake news creation to shape the political landscape is an undeniably dangerous issue.
Encourages Mistrust in Legitimate Media Outlets
Politicians have been able to capitalise on the widespread awareness of fake news to discredit media outlets that are critical of their work. In both the UK and the US, political parties have used the term ‘fake news’ to diminish the authenticity of reporting on either their own policy plans or that of their political opponents. The spread of fake news has also diminished the value that we place on expert knowledge or commentary as we become more critical, or even cynical, of the news that we read every day.
The personalised nature of our social media feeds means that we all inhabit our own personal echo chamber to some extent. Essentially, we have limited exposure to contradictory or challenging opinions because we curate our own feeds which results in the polarisation of views. The addition of fake news that is deliberately designed to look authentic worsens the problem dramatically. Extremist groups such as ISIS have successfully recruited over the past several years by use of their digital channels and the spread of misinformation.
Influences the Financial Markets
In 1803, fake reports of peace between France and England sent share prices in the London Stock Exchange soaring by 5% almost immediately. More recently, we have seen misinformation spread using platforms that include Twitter and Telegram to instil confidence in particular cryptocurrency and, therefore, artificially inflate their value to the benefit of currency holders.
Bad for Business
Coffee-giant Starbucks had to temporarily close a branch in Atlanta after a post accusing a barista of mixing revolting substances into the food and drink of white customers went viral. Big corporations are becoming the targets of politically-motivated fake news campaigns increasingly often.
Damaging to Personal Reputation
The celebrity death hoax is an example of fake news proliferation that everyone is familiar with, but it’s not the only type of false stories that are written about the stars. Many different celebrities were targeted by fake news campaigns designed to discredit them. Tina Turner, for example, was reported to have expressed thanks for Donald Trump as president causing widespread outrage amongst her followers online. Inevitably, in these cases, a retraction of such news never spreads as far or wide as the original allegation and people suffer reputational damage as a result.
In India, WhatsApp is being used by groups to advance their own agendas behind the safety of the apps high level security. Fake news spread through the messaging app led mobs of people to believe that a man was guilty of child abduction. The man was killed by the mob before it was later discovered that he was innocent, and the allegations were entirely false.
Matahari Timoer, one of the members of Jakarta based Internet watchdog ICT Watch said, “Our digital life has entered a dark age, that is why we need people to do their part as a lantern to light up and fight this dark period”.
It is the responsibility of the citizens to be aware of fake news, identify them and report them to the concerned authority and minimize its spread as much as possible. The purpose of these fraud newsmakers will only be defeated when the spread of such fake news will be restricted leaving no impact of the mass. The regulatory bodies also need to be vigilant about existence of such news and they should crack them down at the slightest possible incidence.