As new technologies started to develop, the era of easy access to information began. Each day, billions and billions of pieces of information flow through telephone, computer and TV screens. In all that overwhelming pool of content, it is becoming more and more difficult to gather what is true and what is not. This is so because apart from the authoritative and reliable articles, there are those that aim to misinform, confuse and evoke negative emotions. Have we arrived at the stage where fake news and post-truth are the norm and fact checking is no longer a commonly utilised tool? Can fake news be detrimental to our businesses? Read on to learn more.
Fake news and misinformation
Seeking the definition of misinformation, we can find this one – it is a process of “deliberate provision of incorrect information.” Another definition states that it is “incorrect, misleading information, but also a situation where there is no reliable information.” Misinformation is closely tied to communication, which – as we all know – consists of a lot of elements. Its components are participants, message, communication channel and feedback. For us, the message is the most important part because it is the information sender who determines whether verbal or non-verbal communication is true or untrue.
There are a lot of motives for spreading untrue information, just as there are lot of manners of communication. We can distinguish here, for instance, language manipulation, post-truth or the so-called fake news, so popular lately. Misinformation is used both for marketing and political purposes.
What are fake news, then? According to the creators of the “Open Mind” project, it is fake information appearing on the Internet, usually on social media. It is structured so as to encourage us to interact – click, like and share. The main task of such content is manipulation of not only information, but also of our behaviour by reality shaping.
Technology and untrue information
Use of modern technologies to propagate untrue information has become the norm. Such phenomena were often studied by researchers, specialists in the media and journalists.
Researchers from the Indiana University pored over 14 million news shared on Twitter between May 2016 and May 2017. They discovered that merely six percent of accounts qualified as bots are responsible for spreading 31 percent of “low reliability information” on social media. Bots manage to do it over 2 to 10 seconds, thanks to automated amplification mostly.
J. Ouellette recalls studies by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, invoked in an article from March 2018. The researchers analysed 126 thousand various threads about which ca. 3 million accounts wrote 4.5 million times in total (in years 2007-2017). They discovered that untrue information reaches 1500 people within about 10 hours. The true content needs 60 hours.
Technology is very helpful in spreading untruth. Using the deep learning method allows the creators of untrue content to fabricate practically every visual material.
What is also a problem is low awareness of recipients, who often believe everything that appears on the Internet. How many times did we hear: “It was on TV, on the Internet, so it must be true.” Nothing could be further from the truth. On the other hand, it is worth recalling a very old example, namely the publication of the radio drama entitled “The War of the Worlds” based on Wells’ prose. Then, it was a radio broadcast that made many people panic and refer to a situation which was allegedly happening etc. Unfortunately, it is similar nowadays: lack of verification and boundless faith in the truthfulness of information appearing on the media leads to situations when untruth goes viral.
Social media and untrue content
Unfortunately, it is the social media that are responsible for such fast propagation of stupid, untrue content. We have got used to quick consumption and fast communication. Organic reaches of such information can be huge. Hundreds of millions of people share untrue photos, pieces of information and films. What is more, suggestions have even arisen that it is not the media that are responsible for the spreading and emergence of fake news but the recipients and consumers of online content as they are so eager to acquire it.
There are concerns that the youth is the most prone to such messages: they devote up to 9 hours a day for online interactions. For many of them, the Internet is the natural platform for contact with other people, every-day dose of knowledge and a place for opinion sharing.
Where to get true information?
Unfortunately, it is the social media that are responsible for such fast propagation of stupid, untrue content. We have got used to quick consumption and fast communication. Organic reaches of such information can be huge. Hundreds of millions of people share untrue photos, pieces of information and films. What is more, suggestions have even arisen that it is not the media that are responsible for the spreading and emergence of fake news. Therefore, the most significant media started to counteract misinformation.
Facebook started to block accounts spreading posts containing untruth – the website limits their reaches or removes the posts altogether. The Wall Street Journal prepared a Chrome browser application allowing to filter content on the basis of algorithms set beforehand. This is not the end: the largest businesses and corporations connected with message processing and publication are more and more often uniting to counteract fake news together.
How to protect yourself against misinformation?
Fact checking above all! Meaning verification of information that is suspicious to us. There are organisations which verify content. An example of such an organisation is “Stowarzyszenie Demagog.” However, what is the basis is still the observation and acquisition of information coming from reliable sources. Large press agencies, corporations dealing with provision of high quality content, will not allow such activities. Therefore, let us verify who is the message sender. At the same time, we have to pay attention to the website address or the footer of the sender. Often, creators of fake news want to impersonate trusted sources of information. It is also worth checking whether given content is not the so-called Clickbite. In such a case, the heading of the message avoids the most important information just to make the reader click on the link. It frequently turns out that the further content has nothing to do with the heading, but the author is only interested in the click, which we have already provided.
The easiest way to verify suspicious news is to enter their heading in Google. The search engine allows to verify the source and the message very quickly. If we suspect a photo and its reliability, we can use FotoForensics.com, a tool showing which parts of the photograph could be manipulated. YouTube Data Viewer allows to check the authenticity of a film and email-checker.net lets us verify the authenticity of an e-mail address.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) even ventured to create infographics aiming to help us find fake news.
Fake news and business
Unfortunately, untrue content affects entrepreneurs as well, who are often not aware that their names, trademarks and even e-mails are used to misinform or destroy reputation. This is why it is worth using a tool for Internet monitoring. This way, we can verify 24/7 what mentions about our business appeared on the Internet, whether all were true and whether all were from us etc. In addition, it is worth pursuing our own good PR practices, which build reputation of our business and will allow us to defend ourselves against crisis should such appear.
We live in interesting times
Unfortunately, the development of the media was very beneficial for us on the one hand, but on the other – it leads to misinformation and manipulation. Only with common sense and available tools are we able to sift low quality content from really good information. In addition, more and more reliable media make paid content available to show that it is worth paying for reliable and verified information.