The Consequences of Fake News
One of the major reasons why fake news is such a threat is the increasing difficulty for readers to identify the legitimacy of fake news websites. With recent advancements in technology, it is now far easier to fabricate fake news and make it look convincing. Image and audio editors can make photos and videos seem genuine. Websites can also be easily made to look like that of a genuine, reputable news website. As a result, most readers are unable to identify the nature of the website, causing them to believe blatant falsehoods, thereby negatively affecting their perception of certain people or organisations.
It is clear how the issue of misinformation, disinformation and mal-information is being handled differently in the UK compared Egypt. Such geopolitical aspect with reference to regulating social media is under-theorized, more theoretical outputs are needed. While Britain’s Ofcom avoids blaming the individuals of the issue of ‘“fake news”’ on social media calling for more transparency in who is funding political content on social media, individuals in the Egyptian legal system are blamed for the spread of “fake news” and are subjected to tough laws including arrest for spreading political content online. Independent regulators and academics may decide how to regulate the conduct of social media news rather than authorities and oppressive regimes. This essay critically engaged with the controversial notion that the audience is guidable to “fake news”. It does not suggest that the audience is gullible yet argues that social media manipulation can result in misinforming, disinforming, or mal-informing audience. It starts off by explaining the term “fake news” before discussing algorithms usage by social media firms for political and commercial purposes. Relevant theoretical debates about the audience’s gullibility or their participatory nature were applied to the cases from the US and Egypt. Optimistic views on social media news audience were contrasted with a more cautious approach to this new matter. This essay recommends that in future, independent regulatory bodies such as Ofcom should shoulder more duties and responsibilities to guarantee better information flow and reliability on social media. The risk of over-regulating social media and thus harming the free speech has also discussed and considered as a potential implication. Finally, applying contemporary theories on empirics to criticise the issue of “fake news” on social media demonstrates the need for more theories to solve current legislation challenges.
For instance, Bowman and Willis (2003, p. 7) pointed out how MSNBC.com, CNN, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal offered their readers certain degrees of personalization on their sites’ front pages. Personalization means that readers can customize the portals to satisfy some of their tastes. Also another phenomenon of online activity is what Erdelez (1995, p. 20) referred to as information encountering. This is the ability of the internet to get readers to news without them really intending to. This thrives upon the opportunistic reading habits and emotional response of the readers. Tewksbury et al. (2001, p. 34) argued that due to the prevalence of news online, many people come by news items without necessarily setting out to find the news. In the same line, Nguyen (2008) agrees that the structure of online media has facilitated unintended encounter of news and its reading. What these examples reveal is that it is not only the place of readers to keep the get to the site. While the end target is humans, there are other elements of the internet that helps keep the sites running. The irony here is that people may not really go to the site for the purpose of reading the news, but maybe to reach a gateway to other portals.
Finally, there’s no easy fix to the problem. Tweaking algorithms — something Facebook and Google are trying to do — can help, but the real solution must come from the news consumers. They need to be more skeptical and better-equipped to rate the quality of information that they encounter. A crucial part of that strategy should involve media literacy training and equipping news consumers with tools that will allow them to gauge the legitimacy of the news source, but also become aware of their own cognitive biases. The problem will only get worse without proper action as more people get their news online and politics becomes more tribal and polarized.
Bowman, S & Willis, C 2003, We Media, The Media Centre at The American Press Institute, Virginia.
Erdelez, S 1995, Information Encountering: An Exploration Beyond Market Circumstance, SAGE, New York.
Tewksbury, D, Hals, M & Bibart, A 2008, “The Efficacy of News Browsing:The American Press Institute, Virginia” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 85 (2), pp. 257-272.