Fake news has existed for a very long time

Fake news has existed for a very long time, nearly the same amount of time as news began to circulate widely after the printing press was invented in 1439. A narrow definition of fake news is news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false and could mislead readers. There are two key features of this definition: authenticity and intent. First, fake news includes false information that can be verified as such. Second, fake news is created with dishonest intention to mislead consumers. This definition has been widely adopted in recent studies. Broader definitions of fake news focus on the either authenticity or intent of the news content. Some papers regard satire news as fake news since the contents are false even though satire is often entertainment-oriented and reveals its own deceptiveness to the consumers. Other literature directly treats deceptive news as fake news, which includes serious fabrications, hoaxes, and satires. As an increasing amount of our lives is spent interacting online through social media platforms, more and more people tend to seek out and consume news from social media rather than traditional news organizations. The reasons for this change in consumption behaviours are inherent in the nature of these social media platforms: (i) it is often more timely and less expensive to consume news on social media compared with traditional news media, such as newspapers or television; and (ii) it is easier to further share, comment on, and discuss the news with friends or other readers on social media.
For example, 62 percent of U.S. adults get news on social media in 2016, while in 2012, only 49 percent reported seeing news on social media. It was also found that social media now outperforms television as the major news source. Despite the advantages provided by social media, the quality of news on social media is lower than traditional news organizations. However, because it is cheap to provide news online and much faster and easier to disseminate through social media, large volumes of fake news, i.e., those news articles with intentionally false information, are produced online for a variety of purposes, such as financial and political gain. It was estimated that over 1 million tweets are related to fake news “Pizzagate” by the end of the presidential election. Given the prevalence of this new phenomenon, “Fake news” was even named the word of the year by the Macquarie dictionary in 2016. The extensive spread of fake news can have a serious negative impact on individuals and society. First, fake news can break the authenticity balance of the news ecosystem. For example, it is evident that the most popular fake news was even more widely spread on Facebook than the most popular authentic mainstream news during the U.S. 2016 president election. Second, fake news intentionally persuades consumers to accept biased or false beliefs.
Fake news is usually manipulated by propagandists to convey political messages or influence. For example, some report shows that Russia has created fake accounts and social bots to spread false stories. Third, fake news changes the way people interpret and respond to real news. For example, some fake news was just created to trigger people’s distrust and make them confused, impeding their abilities to differentiate what is true from what is not. To help mitigate the negative effects caused by fake news both to benefit the public and the news ecosystem. It’s critical that we develop methods to automatically detect fake news on social media.
There are several characteristics of this problem that make it uniquely challenging for automated detection. First, fake news is intentionally written to mislead readers, which makes it nontrivial to detect simply based on news content. The content of fake news is rather diverse in terms of topics, styles and media platforms, and fake news attempts to distort truth with diverse linguistic styles while simultaneously mocking true news. For example, fake news may cite true evidence within the incorrect context to support a non-factual claim. Thus, existing hand-crafted and data-specific textual features are generally not sufficient for fake news detection. Other auxiliary information must also be applied to improve detection, such as knowledge base and user social engagements. Second, exploiting this auxiliary information actually leads to another critical challenge: the quality of the data itself.
Fake news is usually related to newly emerging, time-critical events, which may not have been properly verified by existing knowledge bases due to the lack of corroborating evidence or claims. In addition, users’ social engagements with fake news produce data that is big, incomplete, unstructured, and noisy. Effective methods to differentiate credible users, extract useful post features and exploit network interactions are an open area of research and need further investigations. Since then phrase has been used more or less continuously by trump and other world leaders as well as by countless political operative’s journalists and ordinary people. As a rough guide a google news search of fake news throws up 5 million results and already in 2018 the phrase has been used about two million times on twitter. And contrary to the conventional wisdom it’s no longer a stream of falsehoods eagerly swallowed solely by trump supporters and/or those with little education.
By April 2017 trending was reporting on the phenomenon of left-wing anti-trump fakery. Experts say highly-educated people can be duped by lies as well and can often be more stubborn when presented with information that challenges their views. But within months the sheer ubiquity of the phrase fake news had perhaps rendered the term meaningless. All sorts of things misinformation spin conspiracy theories mistakes and reporting that people just don’t like have been rolled into it. For example, by manipulating the balance of how a particular topic is reported (whether that concerns politics, foreign affairs, or something more commercial), the views on that topic can be changed. This can be done either with inaccurate facts or with accurate ones twisted to favour a particular view or side.
Fake news is a means to an objective, not an objective in and of itself. The parties who commissioned the promotion of fake news sites do so with an objective in mind. While any media post can be considered biased to some extent, what differentiates fake news campaigns is that they are often generally based on fabricated, non-existent facts and often utilize shocking, clickbait titles in order to attract the reader’s attention. The importance of the title used for the headlines cannot be emphasized enough. In today’s digital era, the attention span of a typical reader is very short. Fake news creators use this to manipulate the public. There’s no need for an article to be sensible, complete, or factual; a sensational headline will achieve the objectives just as well. In the current landscape, the objective is most commonly thought to be political. While this has been the dominant variety of fake news in some countries, other possible motives exist. Even if political fake news is the most commonly used today, the tools and techniques that enable them are becoming more available. It is inevitable that other motivations such as profit will come to the forefront in later years.
Based on recent events, the most obvious motivation behind fake news is politics, but in some cases, it’s too obvious. While many articles categorized as fake news involve political stories, it does not mean the objective is political. The real goal might be completely apolitical altogether. However, when there is an unceasing flow of fake news with a uniform agenda, then one cannot rule out the possibility of political motives. Political propaganda is designed to get people to change their mind about their political beliefs or some other opinion. An event occurs, which is processed through someone else’s perception (with all the biases it entails), producing an interpretation of the event. If another individual was given this description of the event, it would pass through their own perception, but the event would then be “effectively” recovered although how similar this is to the actual event itself is debatable. By changing the perception of events, an actor is able to change the opinion of (some) users to their desired political objectives. Broadly speaking, the above is applicable to any description of public opinion manipulation. It can be considered a form of cognitive hacking12—except that the modification of a user’s perception is the goal of the operation, not a means for gaining access to a network.
There are a nearly infinite number of ways to profit from fake news. The most common method might be the same beast that powers most of the internet: advertising. Fake news sites have gotten very good at directing social media users to their sites. While the descriptions and headlines they use are charitably described as clickbait, it can’t be denied that they work. Some sites that publish misleading information or content considered as fake news sees a significant amount of traffic. Infowars.com, a site that pushes conspiracy theories, reportedly has the same internet presence (i.e., page views and visitors) as the Chicago Tribune. Even though the ads on these sites are cheaper on an individual basis than that of regular news sites, the accumulated revenue for these purveyors is significant. Advertising represents only the most obvious method of profiting from fake news, however. It is also possible to attempt to profit from the reaction to fake news. It’s well-known that stock prices can be heavily influenced by Twitter. For example, shares in the American ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Spirit Airlines fell 5% the day after videos of passenger fist fights due to cancelled flights made the rounds on social media. When United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from a flight in April 2017, its stock price fell as well. Therefore, it’s no big stretch of the imagination to think that fake news could be used to influence stock prices. This is particularly true for stocks with low prices and those that are infrequently traded, which makes their price easier to manipulate. For more established companies, a campaign could lower the image and reputation of a target company, affecting their earnings and stock price. Simply put, any publicity about a company may have an effect on it as a business. This may be due to its earnings or its stock price. As a result, the ability to influence public opinion regarding a company can have multiple consequences, very few of which are completely predictable.
Fake news has become such a pervasive global problem that governments and organizations are now undertaking initiatives to mitigate its further proliferation. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for instance, set up a website that lists and debunks publications that contain false information about the country. Conversely, the same is available in the website of the European Union’s External Action Service (EEAS), where content considered as misinformation campaigns are reviewed every week. Germany is shoring up its defenses against misinformation campaigns ahead of an upcoming election by introducing a bill that seeks to curb the spread of fake news. It will also fine social networking sites as much as EUR 50 million for failing to comply with rules such as promptly removing fake content on their feeds. A similar initiative is also run by independent organizations in the United Kingdom (UK), where a team of fact-checkers monitor for and debunk fake, election-related news stories. Countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific are reeling under the impact of fake news, which in turn is setting off a series of inquiries, policies, and other countermeasures.
Social media is arguably the lifeblood of any successful cyber propaganda and fake news campaign, and social networking services like Facebook, Google, and Sina’s Weibo as well as WeChat are taking strides to police the content they host. Google, for instance, rolled out a feature where fact check can be tagged on the blurbs or snippets of news articles posted on its News search page. It is one of Google’s many strategies for ridding its services of fake content including rewriting the algorithm of its search engine. Facebook’s response included the suspension of 30,000 fake accounts in France, an awareness campaign through advertisements in the UK’s major newspapers, and improvements to mechanisms that filter and flag hyperbolic and fake stories in its News Feed. In general, Facebook’s efforts are aimed at making fake news less profitable, adding new technology to curb its spread, and providing users better tools when they do encounter fake news. Indeed, what we’re seeing is the advent of self-rectification that happens each time a technology in communications significantly outpaces its previous standard. As the effect of fake news becomes more palpable, society is responding by establishing benchmarks from shared information that are grounded in fact, and would also better arm people with the ability to determine and unmask it for themselves.
Ultimately, users are the first line of defense against fake news. In a post-truth era where news is easy to manufacture but challenging to verify, it’s essentially up to the users to better discern the veracity of the stories they read and prevent fake news from further proliferating.
Here are some signs users can look out for if the news they’re reading is fake:
• Hyperbolic and clickbait headlines
• Suspicious website domains that spoof legitimate news media
• Misspellings in content and awkwardly laid out website
• Doctored photos and images
• Absence of publishing timestamps
• Lack of author, sources, and data
Apart from identifying red flags, readers should also exercise due diligence such as:
• Reading beyond the headline
• Cross-checking the story with other media outlets if it is also reported elsewhere
• Scrutinizing the links and sources the article uses to back up its story, and confirming those aren’t spreading misinformation themselves
• Researching the author, or where and when the content is published
• Cross-referencing the content’s images to see if they’ve been altered
• Reviewing the comments, checking their profiles (if they’re real or bots), and observing the timestamps between comments (i.e. see if a paragraph can be written and posted in a minute or less, or if previous comments were posted verbatim, etc.)
• Reading the story thoroughly to see if it’s not satire, a prank, or hoax
• Consulting reputable fact checkers
• Getting out of the “filter bubble” by reading news from a broader range of reputable sources; stories that don’t align with your own beliefs don’t necessarily mean they’re fake
By now it should be very clear that social media has very strong effects on the real world. It can no longer be dismissed as “things that happen on the internet”. What goes on inside Facebook, and other social media platforms can change the course of nations. Neither does it help that social media is driven by subjective factors (i.e., the emotions and feelings of users), instead of objective things like facts. Everyone now has their own truth, which is based on their personal knowledge and experience and not much else. Idealists would have us believe that the internet is a utopian paradise where everyone can connect with anyone else, where information can be exchanged until the truth came out. Things haven’t quite turned out that way as there’s little to no proof that the information being passed around online was properly vetted and verified. It turned out that a lie could get around the world much faster than the truth if the lie played to the lesser, baser instincts of the audience. Combining the internet and applying public opinion manipulation theory has proven to be remarkably effective. In the past, elections were a contest between a country’s political parties, with each trying to get their own message out to the electorate. It was difficult, if not impossible, for external actors to influence an election. This is no longer the case, and political campaigns and parties now have to plan accordingly. They need to understand that parties outside of the political sphere have their own agenda and can use cyber propaganda and misinformation to influence campaigns and elections as well; this is something that political parties need to understand and defend against, if needed. Social media networks are grappling with the problem and trying a variety of techniques to help deal with the fake news problem. However, this can only go so far: with so much user-generated content, isolating and finding fake news is bound to be difficult. The norms of what is and isn’t permissible on social media have yet to be decided on.
Eventually, however, society will come to some form of agreement on what is possible and perhaps the power of fake news will be lessened by then—at least until the next standard changing technology or communications platform arrives. That leaves the targets of fake news: the general public. Ultimately, the burden of differentiating the truth from untruth falls on the audience. The pace of change has meant that acquired knowledge and experience is less useful in finding the truth on the part of the public. Our hope is that by becoming aware of the techniques used in opinion manipulation, the public will become more resistant to these methods. Awareness of these techniques can also help institutions such as governments and credible media outlets determine how to best counteract these techniques. Applied critical thinking is necessary not only to find the truth, but to keep civil society intact for future generations.