We’ve all become very aware of fake news over the last couple of years, but what exactly is being done about its insidious effects, and how can we spot its peddlers?
In October, Google-owned video platform YouTube was strongly condemned for promoting offensive and false conspiracy theory videos about the then-recent mass-shooting in Las Vegas. Other Silicon Valley companies have faced criticism for allowing political propaganda and fake news to reach wide audiences, notably Russia’s efforts to interfere with the US presidential election via Facebook adverts and Twitter bots. The rapid spread of fake news has shown the power of social media platforms to damage reputations, and has raised flags for businesses and governments alike to be more vigilant and creative in responding. A failure to do so can hurt businesses and destroy trust in democracies.
Despite the high stakes, consumers are unlikely to shy away from social networks, even if they are promoting preposterous fake news and profiting from the advertising revenue it generates. During the 2016 US election campaign, we were served up headlines such as “Hilary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS” and “Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for President”. Both shocking, both untrue. And while such fake stories are a clear reputational issue for the websites that promoted them, people have too much human capital tied up in Facebook, Twitter and others to simply spurn them. For the great majority, the good of social networking outweighs the bad.
So just who is behind this tsunami of fake news flooding our news feeds and why do they do it?