Are fake news the problem?

Fake news, fake news everywhere. Fake news, or that type of content especially generated by sites that seek to take advantage of the capacity of viralization that social networks provide, are the ultimate trend. The plague of fake news was considered one of the factors that helped Trump win the election, a result that was totally unexpected. Although  a research recently stated that it had not been as important as it may have seemed, this type of viral content certainly sets an alarm about our ability to discern false information from real.

So, what is Fake news?

While some websites earn money with quizzes  (one I did a few days ago told me that I look like Ariana Grande, which nobody believes here, do you? Fake news!), the real business today is political “news”. You probably have read the economic reasons behind these sites. By simply getting a domain that looks serious, a basic news template and a creative and incredibly viral title, even a young person from a lost village in Macedonia could influence the most relevant election in the world with the main goal of paying their weekly expenses.

This type of fake news is easily set apart from others because although some of the information they present seems plausible, a brief search on the internet can destroy any of the statements they contain.

 

Another problem is the poor reading these texts get. The title and a small description are enough for my granny, your brother and my former classmate to share it right away. Personally, I prove it every time my friends share my articles without having read them (seriously, they get more shares than views).

But if we bring this analysis to our Latin American context, we may find that  there are no teens interested in generating income through traffic monetization. Perhaps (a theory I fear, makes sense), what the creators of this content pursue is to weaken the opposing political positions and delegitimize the adversary, sowing doubts in many people, and reinforcing the previous beliefs of several more. The bots that create and reinforce Twitter content, for example, or phone campaigns that impose agenda, are also part of this phenomenon.

In contexts with increasing polarization, with discredited media outlets and abundance of information (or content), whatever our contacts decide to share on Facebook or on their networks becomes a much more appreciated and “legitimized” source than traditional news sources. We validate what we think or what we do not yet have an opinion on based on what our peers decide to endorse in their profiles. Social networks incorporate this activity into their algorithmic calculations and voila! The bubble is filled with content that no serious publisher would even consider reading.

To make matters worse, the critical capacity of readers is poorer than ever. And what is even more disturbing in this context is that there are researches that postulate that, against information that contradicts the original beliefs, these are more likely to be reinforced. Then, in this “backfire effect”, readers not only did not incorporate that information which corrected that wrong idea, but reaffirmed the last. So the task of informing gets even more complicated and the whole journalism is questioned.

Now, how can we stop this?

Fact-checkers from around the world are working on different alternatives. Pedagogical perspectives, for example, seek to provide tools for the analysis of information at schools or in learning environments. When we are trained to detecting data in speech, the task of verifying it is much simpler.

Fact-checkers also join efforts with Facebook and Google to identify true information and veto the false, which are just beginning. It is undoubtedly a work that takes time and the results are still difficult to predict.

In the meantime, I would recommend you that as a reader and also resposnible for this phenomenon to take advantage of the contents of the International Fact Checking Day at http://www.factcheckingday.com/ and help us get more people to incorporate data verification into their daily news routine. Putting an end to fake news is a collective task. So please, triple check before sharing!

 

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