Chairman of The Trusted Web Foundation, CEO of WordProof. On a mission to bring trust back to the internet.
What many just consider a buzzword is actually manipulated media that draws the viewer into a reality that's not real.
According to The Columbia Journalism Review, fake news could take the form of doctored photos or videos to show something that didn't happen, or show photos or videos of something that did happen and say it represents something else. It could also take the form of parody sites that are mistaken for truth, fake news websites, imposter news sites designed to look like brands we already know, or simply the spread of false information.
Whatever form it takes, fake news can go viral, and can sway thoughts and actions of those who believe it.
According to a new report on the "The State of Misinformation 2021," most people — upwards of 75% — believe that fake news isn't going anywhere, and will probably get worse.
The report also reveals that people aren't able to recognize fake news as much as they think they can, and that fake news is a very real threat to society. Not only are people deliberately being misled, but those who encounter fake news don't really know what to do with it.
Fortunately, the report lays out a plan for combatting and perhaps even solving the problem of fake news permanently.
That kind of fake news should be easy to pick out when it appears in various social media feeds, right? That's exactly what people think, as 93% of respondents from both the US and Europe believed that they were confident they could spot fake news when they saw it.
Yet over a third of those same respondents had unknowingly shared misinformation to others. They didn't recognize it was fake news when they originally saw it, and by sharing it they helped fake news go viral.
This shows that it's harder than people think to identify fake news, and that fake news creators are getting the exact results they want: People who don't know it's fake sharing it to others.
Additionally, the report points out that most people believe they're only seeing fake news once per day at most. Yet if they can't readily recognize it, we know that the occurrences of fake news must be much higher. Despite the widespread presence of fake news on social media, both the US and European respondents prefer social media as their primary source of news.
Even though people mistakenly think that they can spot fake news when they see it and that they're not seeing a lot of it, they do believe that fake news is a threat to society. US respondents cited fake news as being more of a threat to society than terrorism, and almost as big of a threat as climate change and data theft. This means that they don't think fake news is just fun videos to share around social media, but that fake news spreads misinformation that can influence minds and actions.
The report also notes that 70% believed that fake news influenced the 2020 Presidential Elections. While European respondents didn't see fake news as being as much of a societal threat, the majority still believed that fake news had an impact on their country's elections.
In looking at the widespread problem of fake news, we're seeing manipulated photos and video, and wrong or made-up information being shared widely because viewers think it's real. And those who believe it's real believe it and internalize it, and begin to live and act according to the lies they've been told.
So how does it stop?
There are two approaches to solving the problem of fake news that need to go hand-in-hand to work:
Bottom-up education simply means educating more people on how to recognize fake news when they see it.
There are three things that respondents in the report believed would increase their trust in content online.
The first is more transparency into who the author and organization was behind the piece of content. Additionally, having a way to access version history or all the changes made to the document can help readers determine trustworthiness as well. Finally, having an easy way to find out more about the author would help increase the content's legitimacy.
The report does point out that due to the presence of fake news, more people are now fact-checking questionable content they come across, or seeking to gather more data if they believe the information they have to be untrustworthy. Building these types of habits and encouraging more media literacy will help people be better able to recognize fake news when they see it.
As for top-down regulation, the report found that US and European respondents had different views on who could be responsible for solving the problem of fake news.
While both cited that individuals, news outlets, and tech and social media companies all have a role to play, Europeans believed that the government and regulators could be the ones to step in and solve the fake news problem.
The report notes that two-thirds of people believe fake news should be a crime, and while making fake news illegal runs into issues with freedom of speech, there are certainly ways to encourage more transparency and accountability. This could be by requiring methods of being able to easily determine authorship or version changes, as mentioned above. This could also be having search engines refuse to catalogue any content that doesn't have an author or is affiliated with an organization, as half the respondents in the report desired. Additionally, private companies can hold users posting fake news accountable under their terms of agreement.
Despite most people believing that fake news is here to stay, and that it'll only get worse in the future, we do have a clear roadmap for the way forward: individual education and awareness, search engines limiting access to unaffiliated content, governmental and regulatory intervention, and increased transparency around the content itself will help eliminate the threat of fake news from our society.
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