The 2010s have seen the proliferation of false information dubbed ‘fake news’ online.
While the use of deceitful information is nothing new, the internet and social media provide a fast flow of information that has allowed for an explosion in fake news. This has affected many areas of life from politics, health, and technology. The conversation surrounding fake news was brought to the forefront of public consciousness after the 2016 Presidential Election, during which many argue Donald Trump used Fake News to his advantage in a heated campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Researchers from Ohio State University concluded that Fake News did in fact swing enough voters towards Trump to win the election. They identified three fake news stories that were popular amongst Obama voters but persuaded them to reject Clinton.
The stories were as follows; first, Hillary Clinton was in very poor health due to illness. Second, Pope Francis endorsed Trump. Finally, Clinton approved the sale of weapons to Islamic Jihadist groups including ISIS.
While these stories were not true, social media meant they were given enough attention to change the outcome of an election.
The problem of fake news was made more obvious when it became clear that false stories travel six times faster than true ones, as researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded, having tracked the spread of 126,000 stories on Twitter.
Fake news has complicated the Covid-19 pandemic, false information to do with cures and the origin of the virus have put people at risk. Notoriously, the conspiracy that connected the spread of Covid-19 to 5G towers led some people to attack the newly installed communications towers.
The problem of fake news meant the Paymaster General, Penny Mordaunt, had to debunk various claims about Covid-19 on television. These included the claim that holding your breath for ten seconds meant you were Covid free, and that gargling water for 15 seconds was a cure.
While it may seem the situation is getting worse, as the seriousness of fake news increases, so does opposition to it. With the 2020 Presidential Election around the corner and the frantic search for solutions to the Covid crisis, those combatting fake news have moved up a gear, and are seeing results.
The summer of 2020 saw the StopHateForProfit campaign gain significant traction. More than 150 businesses including Coca Cola, Adidas, and Ford pulled advertising from Facebook in support of the campaign. Celebrities joined in as well with Kim Kardashian, Sacha Baren-Cohen, and Leonardo di Caprio amongst those who participated in an ‘Instagram freeze’. While the campaign has the wide-ranging aim to “address the effect that Facebook has had on our society”, one of their key goals is to stop misinformation on social media.
Facebook was forced into introducing a campaign to help users spot fake news, but the campaign continues to push for more. Owners of North Face, VF Corporation will be holding meetings with Facebook to monitor their progress and to inform any decision to resume their advertising with Facebook.
Awareness of fake news and how it spreads is increasing. In the recently released The Social Dilemma documentary, tech experts explain the implications of social media and how fake news has become so prevalent. Interviewees in the documentary made the case for regulation of social media companies, and the documentaries website offers resources for parents about the dangers of social media and fake news. The makers also advertised the Centre for Humane Technology, founded by a former Google employee.
Twitter has announced that it is ‘game over for fake news’, having rolled out measures that include labels and warning messages to help identify misinformation. At the University of Cambridge an online game has been developed called Bad News, to help people identify fake news. The BBC has also launched a new scheme to help school children identify false information online.
Campaigns such as the StopHateForProfit and institutions such as the Centre for Humane Technology are making progress in the fight against fake news. Awareness of fake news is increasing and social media companies are being forced to take notice. 2010-2020 saw the rise of fake news, but there is hope that this decade sees the tide turn and the spread of misinformation halted.