Lots of things we read online, especially in our social media feeds, may appear to be true, but often are not. Fake is a form of news, stories or hoaxes (also known as junk or pseudo-news) created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers from traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media. Usually, these stories are created to either influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers. Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organisations.
But how do we orient ourselves in the flow of information and news that is flowing through us daily? Which news is real, which is fake and which is a simple expression of opinion? These are some of the questions that are addressed in one way or another repeatedly in current affairs discussions on fake news.
If you are not aware of how much of a disruptive force fake news has become, bear this in mind: for the past three years, different dictionaries have chosen terms related to fake news as their word of the year. For example, Dictionary.com announced its 2018 Word of the Year to be ‘misinformation’; in 2017, The American Dialect Society’s was ‘fake news’. Just a year before that, the Oxford Dictionary named its Word of the Year ‘post-truth’. The fact that these kinds of phrases have made their way into places such as the Oxford Dictionary shows what a pervasive issue fake news has become.
According to Google Trends (a tool which analyzes the popularity of the top search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages), by mid-January 2018 the term ‘fake news’ had hit 100 in the popularity rating worldwide. While most people had been googling it at the start of the year, the hype surrounding fake news was still continuing even months later.
In October last year, it had a popularity score of 73 on Google Trends. That means its search popularity dropped only 27 percent in October, compared with its record-high search popularity in January 2018. Fake news is alive and well, and people are still interested in finding out more about it.
Fake News has always existed since ancient times. They were called lies in ancient times, although the lies had different connotations. Chancellor Bismarck, tells the German ambassador in Bucharest, Cord Meier-Klodt, that a lie is never as good as before the elections, after the wars and after the hunt. In order to understand how old this concept really is, we’ll present a few cases that are relevant to our topic.
In the 13th century BC, Rameses the Great spread lies and propaganda portraying the Battle of Kadesh as a stunning victory for the Egyptians; he depicted scenes of himself smiting his foes during the battle on the walls of nearly all his temples. The treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites, however, reveals that the battle was actually a stalemate.
In 1475, a fake news story in Trent claimed that the Jewish community had murdered a two-and-a-half-year-old Christian infant named Simonino. The story resulted in all the Jews in the city being arrested and tortured; fifteen of them were burned at the stake. Pope Sixtus IV himself attempted to stamp out the story; however, by that point, it had already spread beyond anyone's control.Stories of this kind were known as "blood libel"; they claimed that Jews purposely killed Christians, especially Christian children, and used their blood for religious or ritual purposes.
During the 18th century, publishers of fake news were fined and banned in the Netherlands; one man, Gerard Lodewijk van der Macht, was banned four times by Dutch authorities—and four times he moved and restarted his press. In the American colonies, Benjamin Franklin wrote fake news about murderous "scalping" Indians working with King George III in an effort to sway public opinion in favor of the American Revolution.
Fake news became popular and spread quickly in the 1900s. During the First World War, an example of anti-German atrocity propaganda was that of an alleged "German Corpse Factory" in which the German battlefield dead were rendered down for fats used to make nitroglycerine, candles, lubricants, human soap and boot dubbing. Unfounded rumors regarding such a factory circulated in the Allied press starting in 1915, and by 1917 the English-language publication North China Daily News presented these allegations as true at a time when Britain was trying to convince China to join the Allied war effort; this was based on new, allegedly true stories from The Times and The Daily Mail that turned out to be forgeries.
In the 21st century, the impact of fake news became widespread, as well as the usage of the term. This was due to the fact that people were introduced to the internet, which gave them access to tons of information. If we were to refer to today's news, they can be found all over the place. The power of the online environment is very high, the words or pictures can be easily tricked to change their meaning or context. As an example, think of the 2016 presidential election in the United States, which targeted the residential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Now, you might think “How do I know which is the right type of content?”. There are various types of misleading content we need to be aware of when reading something for the first time. Based on this, we will explain below each type of fake news you might stumble upon on the web:
● CLICKBAIT - These are stories that are deliberately fabricated to gain more website visitors and increase advertising revenue for websites. Clickbait stories use sensationalist headlines to grab attention and drive click-throughs to the publisher website, normally at the expense of truth or accuracy. People on Youtube use this tool a lot actually.
● PROPAGANDA - Stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda.
● SATIRE/PARODY - Lots of websites and social media accounts publish fake news stories for entertainment and parody. For example; The Onion, Waterford Whispers, The Daily Mash, etc.
● SLOPPY JOURNALISM - Sometimes reporters or journalists may publish a story with unreliable information or without checking all of the facts which can mislead audiences. For example, during the U.S. elections, fashion retailer Urban Outfitters published an Election Day Guide, the guide contained incorrect information telling voters that they needed a ‘voter registration card’. This is not required by any state in the U.S. for voting.
● MISLEADING HEADLINES - Stories that are not completely false can be distorted using misleading or sensationalist headlines. These types of news can spread quickly on social media sites where only headlines and small snippets of the full article are displayed on audience newsfeeds.
● BIASED - Many people are drawn to news or stories that confirm their own beliefs or biases and fake news can prey on these biases. Social media news feeds tend to display news and articles that they think we will like based on our personalised searches.
But fake news can circulate even in private messages. This may be by text, by email or by Messenger. For example, fraud attempts by text are common.
You must never send money or click on a link texted by an unknown person. Banks, governments and the police do not communicate by text. Clicking on a link may allow a fraudster to hack your phone. Rumours can also circulate on messaging applications like Whatsapp or Snapchat. Often people are asked to alert their friends about a threat and participating in these rumours can be dangerous.
If you are in one of these situations, it is always good to check before you believe or forward. To avoid falling into these lies, be especially careful when reading a headline, article, or viewing an advertisement because cases have proven that they are not always a plausible source of information.
Always check the source of information and inquire about everything that is offered to you, reading in detail to understand exactly the whole story, and then look if the authors' name is mentioned and if there are sources to complete. Often, on social networking sites there are certain pages that are recognized for fake news or in the form of pamphlet they post. It is advisable to take these into account in order not to be fooled.
In conclusion, what can we do about these fake news? The vast amount of information available online and rise in fake news, highlights the need for critical thinking. Children need to develop critical thinking from an early age. This is a key skill for young people to develop as they enter into third level education and prepare themselves for the workplace.