Fake News on the Internet – Nature, Dangers and Troubleshooting
Written by Ioannis Ntokos
What is fake news?
Fake news is not a new phenomenon. According to Wikipedia, fake news is a form of gutter press or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or farce propagating through the traditional press, media transmission or online social media. ” We notice, therefore, that fake news can be spread through a variety of communication methods. It is worth mentioning, for example, the spread of a rumor within closed, or even more widespread, social clusters over the last century (the so-called gossip, which was often based on rumors rather than on reality).
The main feature that has changed over fake news in the 21st century is the method by which they are spread. Beyond the “traditional” type, which is still used to create propaganda, modern media, mainly based on the use of the Internet for their operation, have been added to the list of ways in which untrue news appear to the average user. Newspapers, magazines and news agencies (especially the largest in scope) have acquired their own website, online channel, and electronic ‘forms’ to exploit the widespread growth of the internet. Access to these media has become very easy on the internet, with the latter being a source of information for millions of people around the world. According to a survey by Reuters Institute (2016), most residents in 26 countries surveyed are now more reliant on social media rather than the press to get informed.
Reference value at this point is the impressive but also worrying (as we shall see below) Chinese avant-garde in news broadcasting. The Xinhua Chinese press has designed and created the first news anchormen entirely based on Artificial Intelligence. This is undoubtedly an impressive achievement, but the risks of misinformation and fake news remain.
What are the implications and risks of spreading fake news over the Internet?
The first of the most damaging effects of fake news is of a legal nature, and it has to do with possible violations of rights to information and expression. These rights are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR (Article 10), and constitutionally guaranteed in Greece under Articles 5a and 14 respectively. Based on these provisions, every Greek citizen must be able to be informed and express himself/herself, without restrictions (unless exceptions are allowed). The impact of fake news, in legal terms, at first glance, seems to be very important: this news misinforms the citizen, with the consequent violation of his/her fundamental rights. At first sight, therefore, the dissemination of such news is constitutionally forbidden in Greece. This prohibition applies to news broadcasted by any means, including the Internet. On a more practical level, fake news found in online environments can be harmful, given the way they become known and accessible to the general public. The means by which this news is transmitted (i.e. the Internet) helps: a) the ease of writing / authoring; b) the ease of their transmission (in which the recipient of such news can now play an active role, their distribution to more people through social networking platforms); and c) the difficulty of identifying the source of the news given the vast amount of information available on the internet.
What do all the above mean? Quite simply, the ease with which such news can reach an Internet user, coupled with the overwhelming – already available and new – information, makes their dissemination extremely easy. This ease grows sharply with the help of social media, offering an extremely effective channel of communication of such news with their ultimate recipient. Because of their ease of creation, they can be extremely persuasive and plausible. At the same time, this news is difficult to crosscheck and confirm because of the already large amount of information available on the Internet and the difficulty of filtering them from the average user of online media.
Undoubtedly, the most damaging effect of fake news is the spreading of their (untrue) content. The person targeted by such publications, news and content generally faces the dangers arising from the inducements of those who disseminate them. Every kind of purpose is served by the dissemination of such news. Indicatively, these may be political, economic, social, humanitarian or terroristic. The influence of the recipient may lead to subsequent manipulation, terror, prejudice and marginalization. Similarly, especially when false news refers to individuals or organizations, they can cause non-material damage to them, in the form of slander, prejudice, hate, and positive feelings, without relying on true facts.
Methods of dealing with the phenomenon
In conclusion, misleading news on the Internet, having many points in common with those used in more “disconnected” environments, is even more disastrous. How can we therefore get protected against dubious validity news? The most effective tool for this is undoubtedly the use of critical thinking. The better you filter / analyze the content you encounter on the Internet, the easier it is to identify inconsistencies and misconceptions.
For this, you can ask the following:
– What is the source of the news?
– Who is the author / writer?
– Are the above credible?
– When was the news published? Is it recent / crucial?
– Published in more media / from different sources?
– Is the content objective or subjective / biased?
The awareness of the phenomenon, its features, and the ways in which it spreads, is the first precautionary step against news made up for misleading and malicious purposes.