This commentary has been co-authored by a number of participants in the course ICM835 – Media Governance as a response to Minna Horowitz’s article in the Journal of Vincentian Social Action titled: Disinformation as Warfare in the Digital Age: Dimensions, Dilemmas, and Solutions.
The authors develop Horowitz’s arguments further by clarifying the dimensions of fake news, offering examples, and suggesting policy solutions.
By: Angel, Axecap, Catherine, Carrigan, Destineep, Holmes Like Sherlock, Katherine, kcazack, Lauren, Matthew, Nat, Oscar, poached eggs, Prime, talia, Tiyana, Viatrix, Xinwei94, Yige, ziva8, Ziying [The ICM835 online platform was public but contributions are anonymous, hence the screen names for all authors.]
Nature of Today’s Information Disorder: Politics, Business, Us
We can see the confrontation between different interest groups in the new media era behind the emergence of fake news. Disinformation is not just about the money for the big corporations, but also about politics, representations, race and all the other elements that abound in our human society as power players struggle and fight for control over ideologies and meanings.
We are living in a rather unapologetic era where distrust for those of elite status is evident and the norm; it seems as though it will swell to no end, yet it also seems as though it will at some foreseeable point.
Countries find themselves struggling to choose between not only who, but what is true and is not. This leads political followers, or the parties themselves to create “Fake News” to ruin the impression of their opponent. It is, in essence, a means of setting the agenda and directing attention to what the government sees fit. How do we even begin to eradicate something that could have so many elites involved?
But also non-state actors like Al Qaeda and Isis have used the digital space to grow its numbers and mobilize its actions. Our societies are increasingly interlinked with new digital technologies that will not take radical actions as demonstrated by the aforementioned but a simple computer hack of our banking or medical systems could cripple our nation.
It is no wonder that cyberspace is being labeled the new battlefield. In the early years of social media celebrities were the victim of fake news hoaxes being proclaimed as dead, now these platforms are being used to influence and manipulate elections and policy relations and decisions. These platforms, designed for user-generated content, underestimated their own potential in going beyond the recreational sharing of information amongst family and friends to becoming such a centralized source and influencer of global news. But the battlefield is also right on our fingertips. We see it all day long scrolling down our feeds. We are just liking or commenting on something that we find funny – only to find that we are spreading false information.
If we take a step back and observe the amount of “Fake News” that generates throughout our social platforms, it’s interesting to understand where it was developed and how it used to promote some agenda, whether it is good or bad. The fabricated information that is hidden so well amongst facts and practices makes it hard for the public to determine what they are reading is actually completely true or false. But that also begs the question of what is considered completely true. Unfortunately we, as a society, have so much information at our fingertips, that we have become distrustful in the information that is being offered to us.
Concrete examples illustrate the multiple facets of “Fake news”.
Viral fake news is already so common that they happen to, and impact, everyone. Last December, a minor explosion happened in Queens. The news and social media hyped this harmless event to the extent that people who had relatives in elsewhere would receive worried messages about their health and well-being.
When a human tragedy is in question, the effects can be much more severe. A case in point a few years back is the death of Kendrick Johnson, a boy who died at a school in Valdosta, Georgia. The official determination of death was later found false; there was malpractice on the part of the original coroner. Throughout this whole process, massive amounts of misinformation were being spread on Twitter and Facebook, and the whole city was polarized about the case. The case became national news but was never solved. To this day, no one knows what truly happened, and the fake news spread by people on both sides only worsened the case for everyone.
Fake news can shift and skew public opinions and divide an entire country. The advent of mobile phone technology in Nigeria was a much-needed boost in the life of the country. Like other developing nations, they struggled with the challenges of the digitalized world. During the last elections, this became abundantly clear. From the moment the political campaigning began, fake news of all sorts flooded the internet space. All parties were trying to outdo and outsmart one another. Unfortunately, a great number of citizens were unable to verify the authenticity of the information. Credit though must be given to a group of journalists working under the aegis of Crosscheck Nigeria, a coalition with the international center for investigative reporting, who tried to verify the authenticity of the information on the net.
Fake news is something perpetrated by people across different sectors, by political operatives but also for economic gain. The result of this is that it is becoming more and more difficult for policymakers to formulate proper policies that would positively affect the lives of people, owing to the fact that everything is shrouded in propaganda, no thanks to the preponderance of fake news.
At the same time, freedom of speech and censorship are variables that slightly complicate the policy-making decisions in situations such as these. “Soft policy” solutions, as opposed to new national laws and regulations, are perhaps the most probable option.
- A more responsible way of managing user content falls squarely on the shoulders of these technology companies.
- It is interesting that a governmental body to focus on “Fake News”, however small, has yet to be established given the severity of the fake news phenomena in the U.S, like in the EU. The inability for citizens to distinguish what is the truth and what is false only continues to get worse, as do the consequences. Although responsibility greatly rests on the platforms themselves, after a certain point their needs to be government action taken. We must first protect our internet infrastructure by placing greater emphasis on cybersecurity and surveillance without using systems rooted in implicit bias to certain populations.
- However, the cyber world will never realize that every net citizen obeys the basic social norm of not commenting and sharing. When you click the news and read it, your behavior is a response to the news which will concentrate the spreading speed. The best way to protect ourselves from being influenced by fake news is to improve our media literacy, our ability to tell right from wrong, and not to believe what the news report easily.