In a time of constant online evolution; fake news is just a new format for lies and gossip to be spread to a wide audience. Except that now, it isn’t Perez Hilton sat in front of a webcam in 2007, criticising Britney Spears for her latest controversy, its bots. Bots aren’t real, they won’t pop up on a red carpet as a feature writer for Cosmopolitan Magazine next month, they’re an algorithm, A software of script running faster than a human ever could to spreading online propaganda, they’re anonymous. A collective of users from around the world spearheading untrue facts. And these bots? Their influence may have helped voters to choose the current President of the United States.
Fake news plays on the weaknesses of the misinformed, using channels of deliberate misinformation and propaganda via traditional print or more recently; online social media. In example of the US Presidential election, propaganda was used to undermine the Images of the Presidential candidates, their morals and ability to influence voters to favour one candidate over another. Fake news doesn’t just misinform however, fake news can also be used to target emotions. Using Facebook as an example; according to SproutSocial.com 84% of 30-49 year olds use the site, we can believe that this is around parenting age. If a fake news site posts an image of a dying child with no real relevance to what the story is about, simple psychology states that parents would want the click on this or to share it around with their online friends, who will also probably fall within that age range. Facebook algorithms soon begin to realise the popularity of this post and soon it is a suggested read for Susan, new to Facebook and in her 60s. So the post is shared again and the cycle repeats itself once more, this is how fake news spreads. By targeting emotions and getting more visitors to their pages, this gives companies more data on key aspects of information spreading such as; how consumers may vote or make decisions. Many fake sites aren’t just about propaganda, many are able to harvest data and identify consumer behaviours.
The speed at which information – or fake news – can travel means that we, as users, have created the perfect conditions for fake news to multiply within itself through both circular reporting and the use of clickbait on social media. An analysis performed by Buzzfeed in 2016 showed that the top 20 fake news stories about the 2016 Presidential election received more engagement through social media than the top 20 election stories from 19 major media outlets, leaving undecided voters to be educated by the bias of fake news. The term ‘fake news’ seems less offensive than calling it ‘propaganda’ or a straight ‘lie’, fake news, when used in journalism, politics or coverage of controversial topics is by its nature deceitful and never attempts to fully educate readers.
Jonathan Albright, social media researcher has said, ‘A lot of users and consumers do not trace back their information seen on Facebook’ leaving room for huge vulnerability. I agree with this assessment. Fake news has become a mainstream problem as spam emails once were. Donald Trump famously referred to CNN as ‘fake news’ showing that not only is fake news very real but the defamation and weaponisation of the term ‘fake news’ to invalidate the reporting of a news organisation can be done by a president who is speculated to have won his seat in the White House using the same resources he now defames.
The truth is, it is difficult to know how to make sense of fake news when it is constantly polluting our trusted resources. As not much thorough research has been done into the scale of fake news there is no accurate way of evaluating the volume of the problem for online users. As we cannot know the scale of the fake news scandal, not much can be done to address the problem.
So, think of fake news this way; every now and again you get those Nigerian Prince scams emails, right? Fake news is the new Nigerian Prince riding in on his white horse promising you thousands and a new title. When its Dan, sat in an internet café in Croydon looking to manipulate you into paying his train fare home. Things are never as they seem..
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