The plague of fake news

Fake news is not a new phenomenon. In the Middle Age, the emperor Constantine was miraculously cured of leprosy by Pope Sylvester I. As a sign of gratitude, he converted to Christianism and he donated to Church one-third of his empire. If you were wondering what’s the matter with fake news, well, this was the first of human being’s history. In the sixteenth century, Lorenzo Valla, an Italian humanist, proved that the Donation of Constantine’s was a forgery.  However, this fake news helped the rise of the Church’s throughout the ages. In fact, that document was exploited every time in order to assert control over various territories. As we can see, fake news are a plague since ancient time.

What is fake news?

Fake news is or a distorted fact or event that has never happened, shared on the internet in order to manipulate people’s thoughts. We just saw that fake news has always existed but why do they are becoming so harmful now? There is a substantial difference in reporting news between past years and now. In the “old” mass media (radio, TV, newspapers), there was a moderator that verified and approved the news. Nowadays, with the rise of the internet, everyone can share everything without any sort of control or veracity test. And the biggest problem is that some fake news can become viral being spread from mainstream networks. A lot of fake news pieces were born to make humour or satire but given that a big percentage of people really believed to them, someone has thought to take some advantages.

Why fake news?

There are 2 obvious reasons for this phenomenon: clickbait and manipulation. We talk about clickbait when there is an economic return from clicking and viewing links. So, people get intrigued by sensational but misleading titles, falling into the trap with the consequence that someone takes advantages of it. About manipulating people, this always happens in elections campaigns. It’s common that opponents try to discredit each other but someone does it spreading lies. Fake news is becoming a weapon to destroy the political enemy’s reputation. For example, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report, fake news has actually helped Trump to become the 45th President of the United States of America. We don’t know if it’s true, but it shows how this phenomenon is becoming important in the global scenario.

Source: The Fake News Machine: How Propagandists Abuse the Internet and Manipulate the Public (Trendmicro.com)

The machine of fake news

Trendmicro.com has reported a Lockheed Martin’s study about how fake news can manipulate people. After an audience’s analysis phase, it’s time to prepare the fake story that has to be spread through specific media and this is called “weaponization”. Then, it’s up to “exploitation”, where a small but active group of supporter share the fake fact in order to start to distort people’s thought. “Persistence” is the step where the goal is to create a viral effect of the news and that thanks to the growth of the supporter’s group. In other words, this helps to improve the visibility of the fake event. Next step is “sustainment” where the fake news is supported by adding other fake stories. In the end, it’s time to decide how to benefit from the manipulated minds and then distract people to get them to switch their attention to another topic.

The Public Opinion Cycle
Source: Trendmicro.com

How to recognize fake news

Figure out the veracity of news is easier if you follow these tips. Firstly be careful about the title. When it’s sensational, with an extreme meaning, maybe full of exclamations marks and written in capital letters, probably it’s a fake. Secondly, verify the source checking the web address of the site. Often people who edit fake news choose a domain name similar to most famous network’s sites, trying to trick you. Third, look at the image annexed to the news. In fake news, a lot of pics are photoshopped or copied by similar events that have already happened. For these reasons, googling the image could be a good idea to expose a fake.

True million dollars

Even if the facts are made up, there are a million dollars swirling around fake news. According to Paul Horner, a journalist who used to publish fake news, it’s possible to earn even ten thousand dollars a month in this field. Therefore it’s become a real industry. This happens because of the big amount of audience that this kind of contents attracts and because of advertising, especially pay per click. As we said, people who are attracted to extreme and sensational titles, click on them unconsciously helping the rise of this phenomenon. Furthermore, there are ad agencies that try to take advantages from big fake site’s traffic by inserting banner.

The fake in business and e-commerce

There are two types of fake news in business and e-commerce: pure ones and false reviews. Both can be really harmful to the companies and to their sales. For example, in 2017, Starbucks had to shoot down fake news about rumoured discounts to undocumented American immigrants. This is the classic news that is made up in order to make the customer confused or to embarrass the companies. Online fake reviews is another way to alter the reality in e-commerce. Sadly, a lot of enterprises pay people to make them leave fake feedback in their online stores. This happens because online reviews are a powerful tool to boost the sale so companies try to search the easiest way to do it. Fortunately, it’s possible to take care of consumer protection with platforms like Revi, that work on reviews certifying, fighting fake feedbacks.

Possible solutions

Definitively destroy this problem: is it possible? The exceptional freedom and the ease to write something false on the internet, show how hard is to eradicate the problem. As we just have seen, it’s possible to recognize distort news even if we need more protection from social networks. For example, it would be good if Facebook, Google, Twitter and so on, introduce algorithms or tools to block fake news. For our purpose, we should always verify news before sharing them on our social profiles.

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