“Fake News”…the social media phenomenon of 2017. But what exactly is classed as fake news? How do you spot it? And should we be worried about it?
Fake news websites (also known as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news – often using social media pages and accounts to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. The vast majority of these websites are monetized by ads, usually Adsense and other methods (usually by using an accompanying video which is itself monetized on Youtube)
It is important to distinguish between actual fake news sites and news satire sites,such as the Rochdale Herald, Newsthump etc.
News satire sites, whilst walking a thin line between comedy and fake news, are the polar opposite of a fake news website.
Fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial (not to say that satire sites are not monetized as well), political, or other gain. Such is the perceived threat from these sites that world leaders have felt the need to pronounce about them.
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday against the power of fake news on social media to spur the rise of populists, after launching her campaign for a fourth term.”
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In the UK Labour MP Michael Dugher was assigned by the Labour Party Deputy Leader Thomas Watson in November 2016 to investigate the impact of fake news spread through social media. Watson said they would work with Twitter and Facebook to root out clear-cut circumstances of “downright lies”. in an article for the Independent Watson suggested methods to respond to fake news. Conservative MP, and Minister for Culture Matthew Hancock, stated the British government would investigate the impact of fake news and its pervasiveness on social media websites.
Pressure from the UK, the EU, the USA and other Governments has led to social media giants, Google, Twitter and Facebook promising to tackle fake news on its platforms. Google first updated its policy saying that the company will try to ban sites that “misrepresent, misstate (sic), or conceal information.” Websites who don’t comply with this rule will get banned from using Google AdSense. Facebook, has also updated its policy to rule out fake news sites from using Facebook Audience Network. More:
German politicians want to go a step further than this, Thomas Oppermann, who leads the SPD in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, Speaking with “Der Spiegel” magazine, Oppermann said that harsh punitive measures were necessary in order to make social networks
So, Governments and social media sites are making moves to prevent fake news, but just how worried should we be about it? And what effect does it have in the real world?
Fake news can start of innocently enough, a post on Twitter or Facebook. But occasionally these posts can go viral. The New York Time’s noted this particular incident last November (2016).
A simple enough post. Man spots buses lined up and jumps to the conclusion that it was Hilary supporters being ferried in to demonstrate against Trump during the election. The post was by a certain Eric Tucker, and this seemingly innocent mistake fuelled a worldwide conspiracy theory — one that Trump gleefully joined in promoting.
The post was quickly picked up by fake news sites.
All of this seems harmless enough, except that even though it was thoroughly debunked, a great many people still believe it to be true.
This is just example of how fake news can accidentally be created. But what happens when fake news is specifically created for more sinister purposes? To try to influence an election? Promote extremist views? vilify an entire race/religion?
Jim Dowson, described by The Times as an “inveterate agitator” and “the invisible man of Britain’s far right”. Dowson himself advocated Britain’s exit from the EU and has expresses admiration for the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Dowson has made it his mission, according to messages posted on one of his sites, to
“spread devastating anti-Clinton, pro-Trump memes and sound bites into sections of the population too disillusioned with politics to have taken any notice of conventional campaigning,” in the same way that Dowson “made deft use of social media … to promote [his] work and convey an impression of mass following”, according to the New York Times.
Thankfully, it seems that Dowson’s fake new sites have been closed down (but not the mouthpiece of Nick Griffin KTI page). But this is a man who advocates a war against Islam, has links to Russia, the Syrian regime and neo-Nazi paramilitaries throughout Europe (and further).
Even during the 2015 conservative (read Nazi) forum in Russia, Dowson stated:
“We have the ability to take a video from today and put it in half of every single household in the United States of America, where these people can for the first time learn the truth, because their own media tell lies, they tell lies about Russia,” Mr. Dowson said then.
“We have to use popular culture to reach into the living rooms of the youth of America, of Britain, France, Germany, and bring them in,” he said. “Then we can get them the message.” Video
Dowson and his Knights Templar use of fake even prompted an investigation by Channel 4 News for its Fake News Week series 10/02/2017.
Obviously, it is impossible to tell just how much fake news influenced the US election and helped to put the Tangerine Toddler into the most powerful office in the world. But it is potential links to fake news sites and Putin that are the most concerning.
Some analysts see the hallmarks of Russian interests and far-right agitators in Europe and the United States. Alina Polyakova, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan international affairs institute in Washington believes that fake news.
“Messages seep into the mainstream, they may have been extreme or fringe at one point in time, but they have been incredibly influential in shaping people’s views about key geopolitical events in a very specific direction.”
“Moscow specifically encourages and facilitates the spreading of propaganda through proxies”
Even the term Fake News has begun to be abused. Comment after comment on social media news articles from MSM sites states “FAKE NEWS!!!!”; in todays Post Truth world it seems that fake news is believed by many people to be anything they disagree with.
The President of the United States is at it:
That was a fake Tweet Mr President….
Should we be worried about fake news? It is too soon to tell really. What is worrying is the the ability of people with sinister motives, backed by money (and possibly by foreign powers) being able to shape the public conscience.
And never forget…