Fake news in the post-truth era

Did Mark Zuckerberg announce his resignation from Facebook? Was a restaurant in Texas shut down for serving human meat? Does Iceland pay $5,000 per month to immigrants who marry Icelandic women?

Commonly known as “fake news” or “hoaxes”, the majority of them are obviously no-sense. Usually based on conspiracy theories, they tend to have even mythical and religious content. Despite the laughter they may provoke, some of them can distort the truth, especially when they are interfering into politics.

Last year, three months before the British referendum, the Sun in its front page published the title: “Queen backs Brexit”. It was a fake news, refuted by Buckingham Palace, but did everyone know about it?

In July 2016, the satire web site WTOE 5 News reported that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for President of the United States. This hoax was largely consumed from online media all around the world, provoking many questions about the trustworthiness of the information received from the social media.

Worries in the European public sphere

At the EU level, many MEPs are worried about this increasing phenomenon, and some of them ask for a more integrated policy, especially in the social media sector. In April, many called on internet companies to fasten their efforts so that false and defamatory content is removed quickly. Some also asked the European Commission to propose new EU legislation in this field.

In this regard, many concerns exist about the disinformation spread from radical parties. Some studies also address the Russian influence, with the dissemination of online propagandist material.

Unesco’s Information & Communication spokesperson Frank La Rue, in occasion of a media conference in Brussels, said that it is important to start analysing the issue of fake news that right-wing sort of populist politicians are trying to use to discredit the media.

Methods for tackling online disinformation

Since the main source of fake news consumption is Facebook, the biggest social network, in collaboration with Associated Press, has recently launched the “fast checking” tool, filtering news and mentioning if they are true or not. Moreover, softwares are currently being developed, with the aim of collecting news from trustworthy websites and reporting or removing fake news.

Digital control: Solution or censorship?

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, we live in the post-truth era. It means that we value truth less than facts that satisfy our emotions, personal expectations, beliefs and ideologies.

Moreover, algorithms defining what to write, what to read and what to believe can provoke a profound violation of our freedom of expression and access to information.

The build of a more critical public sphere that checks and rejects fake news could be the best solution. Users should be encouraged to have a more active role in protecting the truth and rationalism, reporting online disinformation and really questioning the truth of stories they meet online.

This can only be achieved through education of young people, awareness-raising campaigns and knowledge strengthening.

 

Image: BBC/Getty Images