The last few months, the COVID19 crisis has reached Europe and has affected our lives in a way or another. Either being stuck at home or keeping your daily life, as usual, much information is reaching us related to the outbreak. Experiences of how it is being at home or being contaminated with the disease. Tips on how to cope with the social distancing, and what you should do to stay safe. Most importantly, though, countless information on the virus, SARS-COV-2. How did it start? Why is it spreading so easily? Why are governments applying all those measures? Is there a secret plan, or a battle of interests? In the era of (mis)information, it is difficult to distinguish between authentic and fake news, but also find reliable sources, that are objective and based on pure principles.
All those thoughts made me question… Why are people so prone to creating and spreading fake news? So I did a small search.
Fake news are fabricated articles that are intentionally and verifiable false and could mislead readers by mimicking news media content. By including some actual facts, fake news are made more believable. But why would someone create a fake article from the first place? Well, as usual, the motives are mostly financial and ideological. On politics, health, even lifestyle news, we are bombarded with articles, without any claim for the resources they are based on. A catchy title is motivating us to read an article, without any validity, and eventually believing its content. Nowadays, the ease of creating a website has made it possible for an entity to hold more than one site. The fact that the revenue of these websites is based on advertisements makes them create content in larger quantities, not based on facts. This way, fake news will eventually spread easier, as we can find the same information covered by multiple sources. I remember from when I was at school, I was taught that a journalist’s actual job is to cover the news and inform people in an unbiased way. But how objective could someone be when reporting an incident? For example, if one is covering news for a political party, but is a supporter of the opposition, is it really possible to report the facts as is, without altering the truth?
But are we just passive intakes of false information, or are we partially responsible for the situation? Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are in our everyday life, and we use them not only to communicate with our beloved ones but also to inform ourselves. Studies have shown that false news sometimes is spreading on social media faster than accurate information. Among social media, Facebook is the main responsible one for spreading fake news. The algorithm the website runs enables the promotion of attention-grabbing content, regardless of its accuracy. Something I was very intrigued to learn of, was that for the spread of those articles, not only users but also bots, known as artificial intelligence systems, can act as a catalyst in their expansion. Bots are not the only ones to blame, though, as from the content we are sharing, we are less prone to share with our social cycle a challenging article because this is not always the content we want to display on our social group. An eye-catching title and a poor content are more likely to be spread than a well written fact-based article, with a not so exciting title. And even worse, sometimes articles are shared, only based on the title they display, without even the person that presses the “share” button, reading it.
By monitoring a specific fake article, we can observe the way it is spread, and it is shared among individuals; however, it is impossible to investigate the entire way this information has affected the life of the people that read it. People might believe an article with detrimental effects on their lives and their surroundings.
Our contribution to the era of information is more crucial than we might think, and it’s all our duty to try and improve this situation by using the power of our social media responsibly.
If you want to reflect more on the matter have a look on the following TED-Ed videos:
How false news can spread?
How to choose your news?
Till next time though,
Stay Safe, Peace and Love!
- Bakir, V., & McStay, A. (2017). Fake news and the economy of emotions. Digital Journalism, 6(2), 154-175. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2017.1345645
- Fernandez, P. (2017). The technology behind fake news. Library Hi Tech News, 34(7), 1-5. https://doi.org/10.1108/lhtn-07-2017-0054
- Lazer, D. M., Baum, M. A., Benkler, Y., Berinsky, A. J., Greenhill, K. M., Menczer, F., Metzger, M. J., Nyhan, B., Pennycook, G., Rothschild, D., Schudson, M., Sloman, S. A., Sunstein, C. R., Thorson, E. A., Watts, D. J., & Zittrain, J. L. (2018). The science of fake news. Science, 359(6380), 1094-1096. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aao2998
- Tandoc, E. C., Lim, Z. W., & Ling, R. (2017). Defining “Fake news”. Digital Journalism, 6(2), 137-153. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2017.1360143