Increased Response to Fake News Onslaught

Harry Coulter | 12 Jan 2018

Fighting back against fake news

The idea of “fake news” is actually not a new one at all. Spreading falsehoods is an unfortunate reality of human nature, and probably goes back to the earliest languages. Even the term is not that new, having first been used over 100 years ago according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary.

The issue in the digital age that we live in now is that, like everything else, there is just so more fake news. Thanks to the Internet it’s easier and quicker to spread what Jon Stewart has called “the junk food of the news diet”, and to access this junk food too.

Trust in all news sources, including genuine ones, is down as people wise up to the reality of fake news more. This is especially true of online-only sources, versus traditional print and broadcast journalism, and the misgivings have spread to different kinds of online content. Determining whether news is fake or not is tough, and even reviews can’t always be trusted. There are reputable sites that feature reviews that are genuine, but even sites like TripAdvisor have admitted that not every review that gets posted is 100% accurate or true.

A Multi-Pronged Response

Figuring out what’s fakeIncreasingly, it is being understood that more needs to be done in our identification, interpretation and response to fake news. This comes in the wake of the 2016 United States presidential elections, which numerous sources have now admitted was infiltrated by Russian-linked operatives. Social media is the place where fake news really thrives, and Facebook in particular came under fire for allowing false stories to go viral in the American elections.

Facebook, Twitter and Google are committed to introducing new tools that will help users to know what is a fake news and what is a real news story, most prominently with a set of Trust Indicators that were developed by the Trust Project. The Trust Project is a non-partisan effort to boost media literacy and transparency, and is run from the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, and the indicators will make it possible to learn more about the author of a work, the previous articles they have written, the fact-checking policies and ownership structure of its publication, and other details.

It is not, however, simply the big media platforms that need to take responsibility for fake news. Although in the aftermath of the US elections that resulted in Trump getting into the White House, fake news expanded into other areas such as medicine a lot more, politics is still a very vulnerable area. Governments need to take steps to prevent it, and the public needs to learn to identify and not fall for it.

Canada Tackles the Issue

With digital news literacy levels so apparently low, many public initiatives are being introduced to teach young people how to take in the information around them and decide what is real and what is not. Among these are 2 Canadian efforts that will be rolled out before the upcoming provincial elections and in plenty of time for the federal elections of 2019. NewsWise will target students between the ages of 9 and 19, while Reality Check will be aimed at a broader Canadian audience.

The hope with the Canadian efforts is to avoid what happened in US elections, and along with the new efforts from Google, Facebook and Twitter there is a good chance of this. Facebook’s increased efforts have already proven effective to a degree in the French elections that followed what happened in America; about 10% of the platform’s top French election-related stories were fake news, while for America this figure was at least 30%. There is room for improvement and efforts must continue, but at least the work has started.

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