Breaking News or Fake News?

“Fake news” is a relative term that has been adapted to mean various things based on the way it is perceived. Generally, the term is associated with news stories presumed to be fabricated or misleading with no verifiable facts or sources. Typically, the agenda of these stories are deliberately falsified in order to push the audience towards perceiving specific information, often for political motives. Moreover, fake news can be described as an old method of propaganda. For example, a mistake that appeared in a leaked draft of a World Health Organisation report stated that numerous people in Greece who had HIV had infected themselves in an attempt to get welfare benefits. This, infact, was no more than a false rumor that spread like wildfire. However, the use of computational propaganda is new. Computational propaganda includes the use of bots--highly automated accounts specifically targeted to deliver misinformation to those who are most vulnerable to it. These fabricated pieces of information can be translated through many different social media platforms and news outlets. When an individual “likes” a picture, it leaves a digital footprint allowing for the prediction and calculation of their preferences. This process is performed over and over again and is altered based on the reaction of the individual. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube are among some of the vast amount of ways fake news is disseminated to the public. In recent times, social media have surpassed their initial uses and now have at least some control over the mix of news that people receive. The Pew Research Center's report found that nine-in-ten (88%) of Americans have recognized this and six-in-ten (62%) felt this was a problem that needs to be addressed.


The major issue faced today is how to differentiate between real and fake news. Because of major innovations, specifically bots, the distribution of fake news has been powerfully widespread. For example, during the run up to the EU referendum, the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign paid for nearly a billion targeted digital adverts, mostly on Facebook. Sir Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, claimed that the misleading statement that the UK pays £350m a week to the EU was not only inaccurate but for the correction to spread only reached a minute fraction of the mass. In the recent 2020 election, the distrust of news sourced from social media has increased, leading Americans’ trust in mainstream media to drop from 40% to 30%. This is due to presidential candidate Donald Trump who coined the phrase “fake news” to vilify news outlets that would disagree with his political views. During this time period, the bots on Twitter would also bombard individuals’ feed with pro-Trump and pro-Biden tweets in hopes of persuading the audience to sway in in certain directions.


The creation of propaganda may appear to be a simple task; however, due to new Artifical Intelligence (AI) allowing for the reconfiguration of audio and video clips, fake news has become more convincing than ever. Fully fabricated speeches and documents have continued to circulate the media leaving impacts that are colossal. Not only does fake news involve political agendas, but rather product reviews and merchandise scams have also been an uprooting issue. Recently, AI has advanced to be able to produce a vast degree of fake accounts to sway the audience to either purchase or trust certain products.


Although AI has been used in a negative light, studies show that it is not used to combat the spread of misinformation from start-ups such as Logically. Research from MIT Technology Review has stated that various start-ups comb through information using a special algorithm to “clean-up” media by distinguishing reports that carry major biases.


References:

  1. “Lies, Propaganda and Fake News: A Challenge for Our Age.” BBC Future, BBC, www.bbc.com/future/article/20170301-lies-propaganda-and-fake-news-a-grand-challenge-of-our-age.

  2. Suciu, Peter. “More Americans Are Getting Their News From Social Media.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 11 Oct. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/petersuciu/2019/10/11/more-americans-are-getting-their-news-from-social-media/?sh=465b18923e17.

  3. Hunt, Gentzkow, “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election.”

  4. Marr, Bernard. “Fake News Is Rampant, Here Is How Artificial Intelligence Can Help.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Jan. 2021, www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2021/01/25/fake-news-is-rampant-here-is-how-artificial-intelligence-can-help/?sh=5a2bf61448e4.

Image by Adi Goldstein