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Fake News: Disinformation in social media


Everyone’s been told to not believe everything that they hear or see online. Many of us are programmed to give creditability to posts and websites found online. I remember the State Farm commercial where the lady insists that her boyfriend is a French model, but he is a regular guy who speaks a few words of French. The look she throws back to her doubting friend is classic and sums up how many online users feel about their information sources.

Over the past few years, we’ve all heard about Fake News, especially in the political realm, often times with the media as the perpetrator. Spreading disinformation online isn’t a harmless hoax where a guy stretches the truth to date a pretty girl and no one else is affected. After the election, social media platforms were criticized for the spread of disinformation and the ripple effects that had to inspire violence against a pizza shop or scaring undecided citizens to vote against a candidate.

You may ask, what’s the big deal, if a few people believe some made up facts? Well, if fake news was an isolated, infrequent event, then we wouldn’t be here today talking about it. However, Brummette et al., stated that:

“When theory of homophily, when applied to the context of online political discussions of fake news, suggests that social media users have a propensity to associate and interact with other users that have similar traits and ideologies”.1

One pillar of social media is to expand your network to a larger group, so based on homophily, you are expanding your group to include more like-minded people and the fake news is being passed  around and now has creditability based on the amount of people promoting it.

via GIPHY

The concept of fake news in the media and on social media isn’t confined just to the United States. Nigeria grappled with corrupt leaders who use the media to drum up support and creditability for their rule from the same people that they are oppressing. Social media increased the spread of fake news and they’ve coined the term “post-truth era” to describe the gravity of the situation.2

Countries with state-run media distribute information to suit their agendas and to ensure the public falls in line. The conflict with Russia and Ukraine is interesting because there are citizens contributing to the spread of disinformation which is ultimately disenfranchising themselves and giving power to those behind the disinformation.Ukraine launched a campaign to teach the public about fake news and how to better inform themselves about issues.

Fake news, misinformation and disinformation appear in different aspects of our lives, such as, healthcare. The American Medical Association reached out to top companies, such as, Amazon, Facebook, and Google to help slow down the spread of misinformation and non-creditable content about vaccinations.

When the Zika virus outbreak was turning into a crisis, there was a lot of misinformation spreading online—especially on social media.

 

Map showing the spread of the zika virus
World map showing which countries have been affected by the Zika virus

A study showed that the best way to correct misinformation on social media is for user comments with sourced information along social media algorithms filtering out misinformation.4

While fake news and disinformation is not a new phenomenon—it’s been used throughout history to change the narrative to promote a cause or re-write the story to suit the conqueror’s narrative—social media has increased its reach to affect a large audience.5 There’s also an interesting study on how people perceive that fake news affects the general public more than it affects oneself.6 Not only does one surround oneself with like-minded people, the social media algorithms customize your experience so that content that you believe is the only thing you see; additionally, many people believe that fake news is a problem for other people and that they can spot authenticity. How do we stop the spread of misinformation, disinformation and fake news if we don’t admit that we may need to change our online behavior?

Ukraine has the right idea about educating the public about fake news and giving them the tools to challenge what they read online and how to do additional research to stay informed. I foresee children learning about fake news in school during the upcoming years. This current generation of children will only know the internet and will learn to research information on it. It only makes sense that children should be taught best practices on identifying creditable sources and not taking everything they see online at face value.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Brummette, J., DiStaso, M., Vafeiadis, M., & Messner, M. (2018). Read All About It: The Politicization of “Fake News” on Twitter. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly95(2), 497–517. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699018769906
  2.  Okoro, N. & Oguche, N. (2018). Beyond Misinformation: Survival Alternatives for Nigerian Media in the “Post-Truth” Era. African Journalism Studies, 39(4), 67-90. DOI 10.1080/23743670.2018.1551810.
  3.  Mejias, U. & Vokuev, N. (2017). Disinformation and the media: the case of Russia and Ukraine. Media, Culture & Society, 39(7), 1027-1042. DOI: 10.1177/0163443716686672.
  4. Bode, L. & Vraga, E.  (2018). See Something, Say Something:Correction of Global Health Misinformation on Social Media. Health Communication, 33(9), 1131-1140. DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2017.1331312.
  5. Noor, F. (2017). How “fake news” was a tool of nineteenth century colonialism and conquest. Media Asia, 44(2), 88-93. DOI: 10.1080/01296612.2017.1455623.
  6. ŞTEFĂNIŢĂ, O. CORBU, N. & BUTUROIU, R. (2018). Fake News and the Third-Person Effect: They are More Influenced than Me and You. Journal of Media Research, 11(3), 5-23. DOI:10.24193.

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