When Marie Antoinette went to the scaffold, she was not so much condemned for what she did to the French “citoyens” but for what she allegedly did, based on calumnious pamphlets: emptying the coffers of France for her whims and lustful, immoral entertainment thus committing high treason. Nobody believed her truthful protestations.
Rumours, misleading information are as old as mankind. For the purpose of profit, propaganda, advertising or simply upsetting the established order, fake news were propagated in an unashamed way throughout centuries. A comparatively harmless hoax in 1835, describing fantastic fauna and flora on the moon with some scientific claims, made the New York Sun the worldwide bestselling newspaper, overtaking the London Times. Anti-Jewish allegations had often disastrous effects, from medieval “Christian baby slaughtering” that caused pogroms all over Europe to the “Stürmer”’s caricatures and overt incitement to hatred.
That fake news appeared on the top 10 Issues to watch during 2018 (Disinformation & cybersecurity) does not come as a surprise, given the nowadays lightning speed of viral propagation of fake news on social media channels. This makes combating fake news more difficult. Researchers at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University noted: “The difficulty in distinguishing fabricated fake news occurs when partisan organizations publish these stories, providing some semblance of objectivity and balanced reporting,” [Source]
- satire or parody (“no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool”)
- false connection (“when headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content”)
- misleading content (“misleading use of information to frame an issue or an individual”)
- false context (“when genuine content is shared with false contextual information”)
- imposter content (“when genuine sources are impersonated” with false, made-up sources)
- manipulated content (“when genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive”, as with a “doctored” photo)
- fabricated content (“new content is 100% false, designed to deceive and do harm”)
But how to find out? European governments are quick in proposing rules and laws, but they will easier curtail the freedom of press and speech than efficiently combat the originators of fake news (the German example of its law against hate speech shows it, see e.g. article on Digiday ]
As Tom Standage of The Economist correctly stated: Media organisations and technology companies are struggling to determine how best to respond. Perhaps more overt fact-checking or improved media literacy will help.
One step in the right direction is the publication of the leaflet of the International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions IFLA:
To raise awareness about the challenges posed by fake news but also about the technical solutions to detect and combat them, LT-Innovate, Sail Labs and Eurosint organise a conference on “Fake News and other AI Challenges – News Media in the 21st Century” in Vienna, Austria, on 29/30 November 2018.