Fake news is a current phenomenon, though it dates back hundreds of years ago.
In the earliest days of printing, newspapers published articles about monstrous beasts or unusual occurrences. The discovery of a monster with “goat’s legs, a human body, seven arms and seven hands” was published in a pamphlet in 1657 in Catalonia. In 1611, an English pamphlet also published a story of a Dutch woman who lived 14 years without consuming any food or water. These articles were very similar to today’s fake news.
From the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the term “fake news’ became more popular. It even was chosen as the word of the year for 2017 by the Collins Dictionary.
People are depending more on social media to get information than before. In the United States, 66 percent of people actively use social media while 81 percent of people have a social media profile.
Is all news on social media accurate and objective? Hardly. There are some people who use social media and blogs to create and spread fake news as those media have enormous power to spread fake news based on algorithms. Social media algorithms tend to show the most-viewed or engaged content first without checking whether it is true, false, or fabricated. As a result people get more confused about what is true or false on social media outlets.
Fake news creates confusion about facts, current events and issues which misguide people in their decision-making process. A study after the 2016 U.S. presidential election by the Pew Research Center found 64 percent of American adults believe fake news stories create confusion while 23 percent of people said they had shared fake and fabricated political news stories – sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally.
What are the consequences of fake news? Rampages and conflicts throughout the world have occurred because people believed in fake news. It can exasperate communal, religious and ethnic conflict throughout the world.
In June 2018, a fake picture of an injured woman circulated on social media portraying Nigeria’s Herder Crisis. The woman’s face was covered in fresh blood. The picture had hundreds of retweets and shares on Facebook. People wrote inflammatory comments under the post on social media, which angered others. The fake picture – taken from a 2011 news story about domestic violence – inflamed the herder crisis and resulted in the deaths of almost 200 people in Nigeria.
In 2012, fake pictures were posted on a Facebook account of a Buddhist inhabitant in Bangladesh, showing women standing on Islam’s holy book and pigs eating pages of the Quran. After viewing these fake pictures, crowds of local Muslims attacked Buddhist monasteries, shrines and houses. They destroyed 12 Buddhist temples, including a-250 year old temple, monasteries and 50 houses.
Fake climate news has enormous presence on social media as well. A vast majority of scientists believe global warming is real, but some people are creating and spreading climate myths to create confusion. Just think about the headline “Nearly All Recent Global Warming Is Fabricated, Study Finds.” The headline is from a blog that claims scientists are manipulating global warming related data to show the earth is warming faster than it is. The post is shared and retweeted hundreds of times from different Facebook and Twitter accounts. As a result, people are getting more confused. However, Snopes, the largest and oldest fact-checking site, identified the article’s claim as false.
A few weeks ago in Pakistan, a young girl committed suicide after sexual pictures of the her were posted by her ex-boyfriend on Facebook. The pictures of the girl were created by using by photoshop software. Thus, fake news have real consequences that affect our personal, social and political life.
How to fight against fake news?
It’s almost impossible to shut down fake news on social media. But several steps could decrease the amount of fake news on social media. There are two techniques which could be helpful: artificial intelligence and machine learning. Artificial intelligence can identify phony stories, nudity, malware, spam, etc. Or Levi, a machine learning expert, has developed an artificial intelligent software, AdVerif.ai, which can identify whether the content is from a blacklisted website. If a Twitter account used a logo which doesn’t match with the link, the software identifies the logo or link as false. On the other hand, machine learning is one kind of artificial intelligence. Machine learning uses one kind of algorithm which analyzes texts of social media posts and fixes whether the message is real or fabricated. If anyone posts fake news online, the machine learning can compare the post with other resources and determine whether the content is fake or real. The system also can identify fake headline, sources of fake news websites and fake accounts as well. Google and Facebook are also using artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect fake news.
There are hundreds of fact-checking organizations throughout the world which are working to fight against fake news. Thus, in future, human faculties will lead, while artificial intelligence and machine learning will play supporting role to fight against fake news.
The article was published at Gateway Journalism Review on January 11, 2019.