Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are consistently being targeted with so-called ‘fake news’. In recent years the term has been used in a variety of ways and been the subject of many headlines. Arguably, the meaning of ‘fake news’ has since been diluted allowing for its use to be accepted more and more. Here is a recent example of this in the news.
What is Fake News?
Fake news is defined as being fabricated news that is often sensationalised and disseminated under the guise of news reporting. (Collins, n.d.)
In recent years, fake news has been increasingly used to sway the population towards a usually “sensationalised” political agenda or view. These ideas can then be dangerous when people take this information as fact.
Platform or publisher?
Facebook along with many of the other social media giants are under more and more pressure to provide a solution to the issue of fake news. However, Facebook is trying to avoid the issue as much as possible with a debate raging on over whether these kinds of platforms are categorised as simply a platform or a publisher (Subsign, 2018).
The argument states that as a platform, Facebook is not solely responsible for the content which is added to the network by its users.
Whereas on the other hand, if they are classed as a publisher of content; they would be more responsible not only for the accuracy of the content but the type of content distribution as well.
What are the platforms doing?
Facebook is very much on the side of the social network being a platform rather than a publisher. This, therefore, allows Facebook to not put in place such strict content policies to ensure content is correct on their site. In their mind, removing fabricated posts would be in “direct contradiction to the basic principles of free speech”.
To help show support on this issue, however, Facebook is actively demoting this content on people’s news feed; this they say reduces the reach of these posts by around 80%.
However, in the past Facebook has simply used disputed flags to highlight what they deem to be fake news. This process involves two fact checkers that look for inaccuracies in content. This is a long process taking approximately three days.
In recent months, Facebook has changed its strategy to focus on using related articles instead. This idea will combat misinformation by giving the correct information and educating people. Moreover, using related articles instead of the flagging system speeds up the process as it only requires one fact checker. This means that the extent of time which fake news can be seen on Facebook is greatly reduced (Ong, 2017).
Below is a rare post on the subject from Facebook:
“We see Pages on both the left and the right pumping out what they consider opinion or analysis – but others call fake news. We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.” (Hamilton, 2018)
What are the consequences of fake news?
Although a lot of fake news can come from simple clickbait and companies wanting to get money from advertisers on their website, there is a more sinister side to this deception.
The risk of fake news in elections is extremely important and cannot be overlooked. In fact, Facebook is looking to ensure the upcoming European elections are safe from this kind of content. Facebook has stated that to help stop this kind of content being in the public eye they have removed over 30,000 fake accounts during the French election (Conger, 2017).
Sky News reported that the risk of fake news is that it can affect democracy during elections and the ideals of the people risk being diluted with lies and propaganda spread on these huge networks (Sky News, n.d.).
Where did fake news come from?
While the phrase may have come to particular spotlight during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and a large proportion of his tweets ever since, the phrase has been around for a long time.
In fact, some might argue that the phrase itself has now lost a large amount of its meaning from its constant use. Instead of people being worried about fake news and what it means; people accept it as a norm.
‘Fake news’ in the media
One BBC documentary has defined fake news through the use of four tactics.
- Mudding the atmosphere – If you create a huge amount of different opinions and ideas some are going to stick
- Basing it off a germ of truth – people are more likely to believe something is they can base it on some level of fact
- Reversing the truth – Sometimes the opposite of what is true is more believable than something completely random
- The big lie – The notion that a big lie is far more believable and credible than lots of small ones
The fact is people readily accept information they see online as being the truth. Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to allow fake news to muddy the waters of our social networks. If this kind of deception continues who knows what might happen.
While flagging false information and related articles is important to ensure this content is not helping to increase these false assumptions, more can always be done to remove the prevalence of false news.