The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines ‘Fake news’ as “false reports of events, written and read on websites”.
In fact, another dictionary, The English language dictionary Collins, designated ‘fake news’ as the word of the year after determining that its use had increased 365% since 2016.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon, though. But a few years ago the most common way to call it was probably ‘disinformation’.
The reason why fake news has been so popular in recent years is the Internet and social networks. Without a doubt, globalization has contributed to the rapid worldwide diffusion of all types of contents in a matter of seconds.
Furthermore, the Gartner consultancy includes devastating figures in its last report of Technological Predictions for 2018. It affirms that by 2022, the majority of individuals in mature economies will consume more false information than true information and that there will not be enough capacity, neither material nor technological to eliminate them.
The reality is that fake news has invaded digital newspapers and social networks referring to different news, especially of political nature.
Donald Trump has used about 200 times the term ‘fake news’ in his first year as president. According to some media, this is to disqualify information that did not agree with his politics.
But where does this news come from? Who spreads it?
A Freedom House report points to 30 different countries as the focus of these campaigns. In fact, it considers the Russian intervention in the US and other European countries to be totally true.
It is no coincidence that fake news is spread out in the midst of election campaigns by groups that want to influence public opinion and, therefore, votes.
Many media outlets stated Russia had a possible role in the campaign against Hillary Clinton, and may have allocated up to €4,000 in Google ads. Which meant that more than 309,000 Americans saw that content.
Although the objectives are not always ideological, there are economic motivations, such as attracting people to a web page and getting benefits through audiences, or simply responding to the mere pleasure of provoking evil.
What do these campaigns have in common? They go viral in a massive way due mainly to two reasons: the use of humor and hate. They also tend to follow the same pattern based on short news, with many proper names and a host of outstanding qualifiers.
Facebook gets up to date
In 2016 Mark Zuckerberg announced to the world his intention to fight fake news and the misinformation in the social network.
But it has been as a result of the proposal of the Ministry of Justice of Germany to fine Facebook and Twitter for not eliminating false news when the change has been finally made effective. All a few months before the elections in the country.
At the beginning of 2017 Facebook launched its tools in Germany to mark the suspicious news and check its veracity. Even before the United States.
But apparently, those measures were not enough according to Facebook, which ended up rectifying, and consequently adding in verified links.
n fact, it was Facebook which has published a series of recommendations for users of the social network to identify fake news. In total 10 tips to detect them:
- Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
- Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources.
- Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check their “About” section to learn more.
- Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
- Consider the photos. False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.
- Inspect the dates. False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
- Check the evidence. Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
- Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
- Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.
- Some stories are intentionally false. Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.
And what about WhatsApp?
Unlike WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter are platforms whose content is easily analyzed and, therefore, quickly reportable to the competent authorities.
And although the measures put into practice to combat fake news are a good start to try to end this problem, it seems there is another issue still unresolved: WhatsApp.
WhatsApp encrypts all conversations, making it impossible to analyze or prevent the type of information that is shared.
Facebook, which is the company that owns WhatsApp since 2014, can not therefore apply any technical measures to prevent illegal content from being disseminated through the mobile messaging application.
However, it seems that WhatsApp is already testing a system in its beta phase to alert users that some news have been sent out in huge numbers.
But no, the messages will not be eliminated nor will the user be prohibited from disseminating the content they want.
Therefore, it is questionable whether this measure will be really effective.
There is no other way than to trust our instincts and make use of our logic to distinguish what is true from what is not.
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