Now, false news will find you, too
How can we end rampant misinformation on the Internet?
People take their news very seriously these days, so seriously that it has helped breed fake news websites. The other factor that led to the proliferation of such websites was advertising income generously given by the big cyberspace players like Google and Facebook. Action is being taken to eliminate these Internet conmen, but cooperation is needed from “consumers” as well. Too many fake news stories are going viral nowadays thanks to the gullibility of many people in the new information era.
“News will find you” was what they said. It turned out to be the most apt description of how the digital age would be like when it came to exposure to, or sharing of, information. People didn’t need to be working in newsrooms to be among the first to learn about what was happening anywhere in the world. Good following on Twitter, a Line network and monitoring of websites could enable anybody to be a well-informed person. Until the “fake” news sites came along, that is.
“Fabricated news will find you, too” should adequately describe the current state of digital affairs. The motivations of tricksters have ranged from the ability to gloat, to small advertising income, to big, systematic profits. It could be teenagers doing it for fun or well-organised rackets trying to get enough “clicks” or “views” in order to win advertising money. The situation has been further complicated by the existence of websites that openly proclaimed themselves as creators of fake news and thrive on funny or shocking content.
It’s not surprising that false news stories, whether they were created to deceive people or make them laugh, have been playing a serious role, especially in politics. In Thailand, fake or distorted news or pictures have worsened the national divide. In America, the recent presidential election was said to have been considerably impacted by social media content, some derived from news sites that carried blatant lies. Examples included such headlines as “Terrorists funding Hillary’s campaign” or “Obama asking illegal immigrants to vote.”
Some fake reports appeared so credible that they got the mainstream media scrambling to do follow-ups. By the time the truth was found out, damage was already done.
It has been reported in America that “fake journalists” were getting paid more than their authentic counterparts. The reasons are not difficult to pinpoint. “Fake” news stories could generate more “clicks” or “views” thanks to their sensationalism, strangeness or excitement. When “fake” reports were motivated by political
agendas, payments to the creators from those benefiting from the content going viral could also be huge.
Google and Facebook have started to ban ad income to fake news sites, an action that could more or less curtail the activities. But it does not address the problem of widespread misinformation in the Internet era. While false political reports are unhealthy, they can be rebutted more easily than, say, claims that some things could cure cancer. Unless action is concerted, serious, continuous, and focused on public interest rather than face-saving measures, bogus news stories will find a new way to wreak havoc on cyberspace.
On the bright side, sooner or later a website with a smart algorithm will emerge to authen-tically and effectively allow peo-ple to double-check curious
reports or information. As for now, at the dawn of a new era, everyone will have to remain watchful. A few fundamental journalism basics will be required, too, like checking the sources, the date and reading beyond the headlines.