If you haven’t heard the term “fake news” yet, please come out from under that rock and join the rest of us. As for the rest, you will no doubt be aware that fake news has been linked to extremist politics, social division, mob violence, and crime.
As writers, we know the power of words. That’s why I’m sharing some interesting news on fake news and the moves against it, courtesy of Mike Elgan and Computer World.
Who’s to blame?
Old people. No, seriously. A new study found that Facebook users over the age of 65 are far more likely to share fake news than younger users. The reasons for this include a lack of digital media literacy by people who didn’t grow up with the internet and age-related cognitive decline.
China’s WeChat found similar results on that network and also concluded that country folk are more likely to share fake news than city slickers.
Where does fake news come from?
As Mike points out, fake news isn’t the same as disagreeable opinions, bad reporting, erroneous journalism or divisive speech.
The Russian government has become the poster child for political misinformation and disinformation because of the mountains of (real) news reports about its role in fake news leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. More recent reports show Russian efforts to spread fake news not only in the U.S. but in many countries around the world. Some of that fake news seeks to debunk even the idea that Russia spreads fake news.
But fake news is mostly spread for profit. Fake news attracts eyeballs, which in turn sells advertising. It’s a growing industry around the world. For example, North Macedonian fake-news creators are often middle-aged and work as families. It’s a growing type of family business there.
What can be done?
As the post’s title suggests, plenty can be done to fight fake news. Most major Internet companies have taken notice and are trying out different strategies.
WhatsApp, which has 1.5 billion users, has a big fake news problem. For example, fake news about child abductions on WhatsApp in India has been blamed for driving mob lynchings. But curbing fake news on WhatsApp isn’t easy: messages use an end-to-end encryption service, so the company has no access to the content shared. That’s why WhatsApp this week announced a new limitation on forwarding. Users worldwide can now forward any specific message just five times. The aim is to slow down the viral spreading of misinformation on the network.
Facebook recently removed accounts, pages, groups and Instagram profiles connected to the Russian state-owned Sputnik news and disinformation network. After the accounts built large audiences by posting legitimate news, they started adding Russian disinformation from Sputnik.
Twitter is testing an icon designed to label tweets that start a thread. Called an “Original Tweeter” icon, the label is intended to notify users that a fake account impersonating the original tweeter during a conversation thread is illegitimate.
China’s WeChat, which is owned by Tencent and has more than a billion users, recently partnered with 774 third-party organizations to provide users with more than 4,000 articles that debunk fake news reports. WeChat also posts a top-ten list of the most popular false rumors. It flags fake news articles. It also bans content and blocks links on the service.
Microsoft added new features to its Edge browser that integrate a third-party, anti-disinformation tool called NewsGuard. An extension of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program, NewsGuard uses a five-point color system to indicate the quality of the source. A green check means that the news source upholds “basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” A red exclamation point means it’s a purveyor of fake or unreliable news. Clicking on the badge reveals basic information about the news source.
NewsGuard browser extensions also exist for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and all of them show ratings on Facebook and Twitter, along with search results on Google, Bing, and other sites.
This sounds great but the potential for abuse is great.
The Russian government, widely considered the largest and most sophisticated state sponsor of fake news and disinformation, itself passed a bill to ban what it called fake news this month. The new law, which punishes violators with fines or prison, clusters together fake news and any “disrespect” of government leaders or state symbols.
I’m sure nothing can go wrong there.
And lumped into its campaign against fake news, China’s WeChat helps the government censor political and other banned speech and represses links to competitive social services, according to critics and competitors.