Lentis/Fake News

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Definition[edit]

Fake News is "false news stories, often of a sensational nature, created to be widely shared online for the purpose of generating ad revenue via web traffic or discrediting a public figure, political movement, company, etc." [1]. Fake News is a type of disinformation (false information with the intent to deceive), and disinformation is a type of misinformation (false or misleading information). In scientific literature, Fake News has been defined as disinformation that "mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent" [2]. Fake News often goes beyond this definition to describe misinformation, disinformation, errors, false predictions, and reporting that people don't like. [3]. First Draft News and Facebook avoid the term "Fake News" due to its usage as a political weapon. [4]

Fake News itself can be divided into different categories such as [5]:

  • Clickbait: Sensational article titles created to increase views in order to "increase ad revenue for websites"
  • Propaganda: "Promotes a biased point of view or particular political cause/agenda"
  • Satire / Parody: Fake stories that are published for entertainment
  • Sloppy Journalism: Stories published containing unreliable information or that are not fact-checked
  • Misleading Headings: Using a misleading title to distort story as "only headlines and small snippets...are displayed on...newsfeeds"
  • Biased / Slanted News: Confirms and polarizes the biases and beliefs of a particular user

Recent Popularity[edit]

Hillary Clinton gave a speech on December 8, 2016 in which she mentioned "the epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year." Two days later, Donald Trump used the term in a tweet for the first time, and subsequently began using the term heavily in early 2017, leading to its placement in the American vernacular.[6] Donald Trump originally used the term to describe attacks on his presidency while Hillary Clinton used it to describe false news stories which had a potential impact on the election. By July 24th, 2017 Trump had tweeted about fake news 73 times[7]

Teenagers in a small Macedonian town produced a high number of pro-Trump fake news articles which received a tremendous amount of clicks during the 2016 election. One such fake news author known as Mikhail claimed to generate up to $2,500 a day from advertising revenue from his site, which is 17600% the average daily income in Macedonia.[8]. Regarding the falsity of his articles, Mikhail said: "I don't care, because the people are reading." Mikhail is now preparing his operation for the 2020 election. An investigation revealed at least 140 fake news websites hailing from the area[9].

In 2017, the GOP hosted the first ever Fake News Awards which pointed out the most egregious perpetrators of fake news according to the administration[10].

Social Impact[edit]

A study done by Ohio State University concluded that fake news most likely did have an impact on voting decisions in 2016 for the subset of people who voted for Obama in 2012. The study found that just 77% of Obama supporters also voted for Hillary. Researchers tried to determine if fake news accounted for the defections in 2016 by eliminating other variables like age, education, and political variables. Due to Trump’s narrow victory, researchers believe that it is possible that fake news could have been a deciding factor in the election results[11].

A Stanford database reveals how much adults are exposed to unreliable news sources: “62 percent of US adults get news on social media”. The database contains 115 pro-Trump fake stories that were shared on Facebook a total of 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times. Researchers estimated that adults saw and remembered an average of 1.14 fake news stories at the time of the research[12].

Trust in mainstream media has declined more amongst Republicans, but Democrats and Republicans are both about 15% more likely to believe ideologically aligned headlines[13].

Fake news has even resulted in far more dangerous and intense conflicts. In the case of "Pizzagate", a man was led to shooting up a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant after reading an article stating the restaurant contained a pedophilia trafficking ring that was run by Hillary Clinton. The false article contained popularity by various channels, resulting in an act of violence. Fake news also has the power of promoting conspiracies and other radical beliefs. It is a weapon that can be used to intensify various political or social conflicts that are occurring in America and the world. [14]

History[edit]

While recently the term Fake News has risen in popularity, publishing false news stories have occurred throughout history. These stories and propaganda are often used to influence public opinion about politics and social phenomena.

Antisemitism[edit]

In Medieval Europe, there were many unfounded rumors about Jews sacrificing children for cult practices. One of the most famous false stories was that of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln. In 1255, the Jews were accused of using the body of an eight-year-old boy for ritual murder despite the lack of inculpatory evidence. Matthew Paris, a famous historian at the time, recounts the accusation as follows:

"Moreover, he was pierced by each of them with a wood knife, was made to drink gall, was over whelmed with approaches and blasphemies, and was repeatedly called Jesus the false prophet by his tormentors, who surrounded him, grinding and gnashing their teeth. Aftertormenting him in divers ways, they crucified him, and pierced him to the heart with a lance. After the boy had expired, they took his body down from the cross and disembowelled it; for what reason we do not know, but it was asserted to be for the purpose of practising magical operations." [15]

This false account circulated through all of England, eventually reaching King Henry III. Under his royal investigation, eighteen Jews were sentenced to death and more than eighty others were imprisoned. [15] Matthew Paris's story continued to be circulated for decades, if not centuries. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written around 132 years after the incident, there is a reference to Little Saint Hugh:

"O yonge Hew’ of Lincoln, slain also / With cursed Jewes, as it is notable," [16]

Despite the lack of evidence, Matthew Paris's account, the most well-known account of this event, embellishes the Jew's involvement more than other accounts, even going to the point of changing the location of where the body was found. This fake news was done to perpetuate Jewish antisemitism and give fuel for anti-Jewish acts. [17]

Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution[edit]

In 1782, near the end of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin heard that Great Britain desired reconciliation. However, it was one that Franklin believed did not fully make up for the cruelties that innocent Americans suffered from the British and their Indian allies. In hopes of influencing public opinion as peace negotiations went underway, he printed a hoax supplement of the Boston Independent Chronicle that falsely claimed American Indians were scalping American soldiers and civilians for the king:

"...we were struck with Horror to find among the Packages, 8 large ones containing SCALPS of our unhappy Country-folks, taken in the three last Years by the Senneka Indians from the Inhabitants of the Frontiers of New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and sent by them as a Present to Col. Haldimand, Governor of Canada, in order to be by him transmitted to England." [18]

This article was picked up by various news sources, like the New Jersey Gazette,[19] and continued the false notion that American Indians were savages and merciless. [20]

The Great Moon Hoax[edit]

In 1835, the "penny press" paper New York Sun published a series of six articles announcing and detailing supposed life on the moon. This included lakes and vast terrains with plants, strange animals, and winged humans:

"...we were thrilled with astonishment to perceive four successive flocks of large winged creatures, wholly unlike any kind of birds... Certainly the were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared, and their attitude in walking was both erect and dignified... We scientifically denominated them as Vespertilio-homo, or man-bat; and they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures, notwithstanding that some of their amusements would but ill comport with our terrestrial notions of decorum." [21]

Sales for the Sun shot up significantly. It wasn't until later when the Sun admitted these articles were a hoax, intended to poke fun at speculations on extraterrestrial life. [22]

Economics of Fake News[edit]

Fake news websites generate revenue primarily through clicks on advertisements from networks such as Google Adsense. Fake news sites also use sponsored content which is typically a grid of eye-catching articles which link to drawn-out stories that requires several clicks to complete. These lengthy stories are known as chum and they generate ad revenue on every click. [23]

Robert Shooltz from RealNewsRightNow reported making around $1000 a month and LibertyWriters reported close to $40,000 in the months leading up to the election for their click bait stories and ads. Due to high revenue generation from fake news websites, attempts at stopping fake news often involve reducing its economic viability.

Role of Tech Companies[edit]

In 2018, about 68% of people got some of their news from social media[24]. Tech companies use machine learning algorithms to show content relevant to the their users’ interests in order to make them more likely to click the article.[25]. As a result, many users were shown fake news articles which aligned with their political beliefs on Facebook during the 2016 election.

While Google and Facebook were originally only involved in developing technology, their social involvement grew as their websites grew. At first, Facebook only had to handle inappropriate content, such as porn sites, videos of bullying, and live videos of violent acts[26]. Facebook now plays a role in fake news and political affairs.

In Egyptian Revolution of 2011, which was an uprising against the former President Hosni Mubarak, was highly influenced by Facebook. While Facebook has highlighted that they helped bring freedom to Egypt, there was also a downside to their involvement. Post-Revolution proved to be tough for Egypt because people started to spread rumors through social media that severely affected the stability of the new government. Many claimed that this was the first instance in which Facebook failed to realize the social impact of their product[27].

Examples of fake news:

  • Following the 2016 Presidential Election, Google’s top result for the election was that Donald Trump had won both the electoral and popular vote. In reality, Trump had only won the electoral vote and Hilary Clinton had won the popular vote[28].
  • After the 2017 mass shooting at a bar in Las Vegas that claimed over 50 lives, Facebook and Google had promoted an article claimed that a registered Democrat who was dissatisfied with President Trump was the prime suspect. The article was written by alt-right wing extremists and proved to be false, but had placed an innocent man under unnecessary scrutiny[29].

Attempted Regulation by Tech Companies[edit]

Previously, tech companies argued that it was not their responsibility to filter what their users saw and that they could not limit someone’s right to express. Since 2016 however, Facebook and Google have started to tweak their algorithms to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Features implemented by Facebook include:

  • Fact-checking will be done by 3rd party organizations.
    • It still takes 2-3 days, however Facebook claims to decrease the time soon.
    • Fake stories will be flagged, and users will be able to see the fact-checking results and opinions.
  • Fake stories will not trend by being placed at lowest priority, decreasing distribution by 80%.
  • Repeat offenders who misinform will have restricted advertising and monetization opportunities.
    • This is an effective technique since most “fake news” creators write to get more clicks. Through less monetization of those clicks, writers will be less inclined to create fake news articles.
    • Google is also using a similar strategy by preventing fake news sites from using Google Adsense monetization. [30]

In November 2017, Google announced that misrepresentative sites would not be able to use Google AdSence, and Facebook announced that fake news sites would not be able to use the Facebook Audience Network. [31]

Independent Solutions[edit]

Many online fact-checking websites are attempts to identify fake news. One such example is Snopes, which claims to be the definitive online resource for fact-checking [32]. Snopes allows users to view articles on a wide variety of topics and view analyses of other articles containing potential "fake news". Users are also able to submit topics and articles to Snopes that they would like investigated, opening up a dialogue to promote fact-checking. PolitiFact is another fact-checking site; however, it focuses on politics. PolitiFact's primary goal is to provide correct information needed in order to make informed decisions [33]. PolitiFact takes various articles, issues, and people and rates their "truthfulness" on a scale from "true" to "pants on fire". The site presents the truthfulness of individual quotes from a person or about a particular issue as well as their overall rating.

Similarly, businessman Elon Musk expressed over Twitter the idea and necessity of creating a site with the aim of fact-checking journalists and publications [34]. Politifact responded claiming that their website already acomplishes Musk's goal, and Musk responded by praising their site and donating. [35].

References[edit]

  1. Steinmetz, K. (2017, September 27). Fake News: Definition. Retrieved from https://time.com/4959488/donald-trump-fake-news-meaning/
  2. Lazer et al. (2018, March 09). The Science of Fake News. Retrieved from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1094
  3. Wendling, M. (2018, January 22). The (almost) complete history of 'fake news'. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-42724320.
  4. Lazer et al. (2018, March 09). The Science of Fake News. Retrieved from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1094
  5. WebWise.ie. (2019, November 15). Explained: What is Fake News?. Retrieved from https://www.webwise.ie/teachers/what-is-fake-news/
  6. Rosen, C. (2017, July 21). All the Times Donald Trump Has Called Something 'Fake News'. Retrieved from https://ew.com/tv/2017/06/27/donald-trump-fake-news-twitter/
  7. Rosen, C. (2017, July 21). All the Times Donald Trump Has Called Something 'Fake News'. Retrieved from https://ew.com/tv/2017/06/27/donald-trump-fake-news-twitter/
  8. The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing up for 2020. (n.d.). CNN. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/interactive/media/the-macedonia-story/
  9. The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing up for 2020. (n.d.). CNN. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/interactive/media/the-macedonia-story/
  10. The Highly Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards. (2018, January 17). Retrieved from https://gop.com/the-highly-anticipated-2017-fake-news-awards/
  11. Finnegan, A. (2018, March 10). Fake News May Have Contributed to Trump's 2016 Victory. Retrieved from https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4429952-Fake-News-May-Have-Contributed-to-Trump-s-2016.html
  12. Stanford University. (2018, March 08). Stanford study examines fake news and the 2016 presidential election. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2017/01/18/stanford-study-examines-fake-news-2016-presidential-election/
  13. Stanford University. (2018, March 08). Stanford study examines fake news and the 2016 presidential election. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2017/01/18/stanford-study-examines-fake-news-2016-presidential-election/
  14. CiTS. (n.d.). The Danger of Fake News in Inflaming or Suppressing Social Conflict. Retrieved from https://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news/danger-social
  15. a b Paris, M., Rishanger, W. (1854). Matthew Paris's English History: From the Year 1235 to 1273. United Kingdom: AMS Press.
  16. Tyrwhitt, T., Chaucer, G. (1855). The Canterbury Tales. United States: D. Appleton.
  17. Langmuir, G. (1972). The Knight's Tale of Young Hugh of Lincoln. Speculum, 47(3), 459-482. doi:10.2307/2856155
  18. ““Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle,” [before 22 April 1782],” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 29, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-37-02-0132. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 37, March 16 through August 15, 1782, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 184–196.]
  19. (1782, December 18). New-Jersey Gazette, VI (260), p. [1]. Available from Readex: America's Historical Newspapers
  20. Parkinson, R. G. (2016, November 25). Fake news? That's a very old story. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fake-news-thats-a-very-old-story/2016/11/25/c8b1f3d4-b330-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html
  21. Locke, R. Adams., Nicollet, J. N. (Joseph Nicolas). (1835). Great astronomical discoveries lately made by Sir John Herschel ... at the Cape of Good Hope. [New York.
  22. The Great Moon Hoax. (2009, November 24). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-great-moon-hoax
  23. https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2017/oct/04/more-outrageous-better-how-clickbait-ads-make-mone/
  24. Pew Research Center (Ed.). (2018, September 21). News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2018/
  25. Facebook. (2017). Facing Facts. Retrieved from https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/05/inside-feed-facing-facts/
  26. ABC Inc. (2018, April 06). 10 most shocking Facebook Live moments ever captured. Retrieved from https://abc13.com/10-most-shocking-facebook-live-moments-ever-captured/3302314/
  27. WGBH Educational Foundation. (2018, October 29). The Facebook Dilemma. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/facebook-dilemma/
  28. The Washington Post. (2016, November 14). Google's top news link for 'final election results' goes to a fake news site with false numbers. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/14/googles-top-news-link-for-final-election-results-goes-to-a-fake-news-site-with-false-numbers/?utm_term=.44dc3aece28a
  29. The Guardian. (2017, October 02). Facebook and Google promote politicized fake news about Las Vegas shooter. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/02/las-vegas-shooting-facebook-google-fake-news-shooter
  30. Facebook. (2017, December 20). How Facebook Addresses False News. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/facebook/videos/10156900476581729/
  31. https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2017/oct/04/more-outrageous-better-how-clickbait-ads-make-mone/
  32. Snopes. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved from https://www.snopes.com/about-snopes/
  33. Holan, A. D. (2018, February 12). The Principles of the Truth-O-Meter: Politifact's Methodology for Independent Fact-Checking. Retrieved from https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/feb/12/principles-truth-o-meter-politifacts-methodology-i/
  34. Elon Musk. 2018, May 23). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/999367582271422464?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E999367582271422464&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.politifact.com%2Ftruth-o-meter%2Farticle%2F2018%2Fmay%2F24%2Felon-musk-new-member-politifacts-truth-squad-heres%2F
  35. Hollingsworth, Josie. (2018, May 24). Elon Musk Calls for Accountability in Media, Donates to PolitiFact. Retrieved from https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/may/24/elon-musk-new-member-politifacts-truth-squad-heres/