Fact or Fiction? Social media as news source increases spread of fake news

Research shows that social media has become the primary news source for most people. Whilst social media represents hyperconnectivity, its mechanisms allow for widespread misinformation and the rise of fake news.

With more than 3 billion users worldwide, there is no doubt social media represents a revolution in the way we communicate with one another. It may be a convenient, easy and cheap way to access information and stay up-to-date — but it is also a minefield of misinformation and fake news.

As social media has become the primary means for businesses, politicians and decision makers to reach their audiences, people are casting newspapers and traditional media aside, instead keeping themselves updated via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

In the U.S., 67 percent of survey participants say they get their news from social media in general, with 45 percent reporting getting it from Facebook alone. The situation in Europe is a little more encouraging but still gives cause for concern. In the EU, 13 percent of consumers say they stay up to date on European politics via social media, with the figure rising to 16 percent regarding domestic politics. In Sweden and Denmark, social media serves as the main source of information for 30 percent of consumers.

This is a particularly worrying problem in emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Nigeria, which are among the biggest markets for WhatsApp and social networks.

During the recent presidential elections in Brazil, a study analysed 100,000 images shared via WhatsApp and found that more than half contained misleading or flatly false information.

In India, where viral fake news has caused chaos and fatal incidents, WhatsApp is set to run TV advertisements to warn users about the problem. The campaign consists of 60-second films where characters go through real life scenarios and demonstrates how to use WhatsApp tools such as how to leave groups that could be propagating misinformation, and how to block unknown senders.

The campaign follows serious criticism of the platform from the Indian government and aims to create wider awareness about the problem ahead of the general elections to be held in India next year.

Even in developed economies and solid democracies, fake news is understood as a problem by the vast majority of the populations. Research by the European Commission showed that 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

The underlying issue with using social media as a news source is that it blinds people to a plural discussion, says Matteo Flora, digital identity expert: “Most people are not used to looking into political debates anymore and are confined inside their own social media bubbles, always consuming the same kind of information.”

A unilateral news diet leads to unhealthy debate and alienation, so it is important to build platforms online where social media users are exposed to different views and don’t end up victims of algorithms that perpetually feed their timelines with stories only of a certain type.

The solution? Social platforms that allow multiple voices

Users are indeed not short of tools to check information themselves, but in the digital era, convenience rules, so building tools that integrate content into one single platform is an efficient and user-friendly way of tackling fake news.

“Fake news is everywhere, misleading us and building misconceptions about people and events. Because it is difficult to identify it in the first place, it is even harder to address it. In these situations, we require smart and holistic solutions that will preserve freedom of expression, privacy but also counter misleading content online,” says Stefania Barbaglio, from Right of Reply.

“Technology is able to help increase media literacy when harnessed effectively. Right of Reply is developing a series of innovative apps and platforms to allow open debate online and fight misinformation.”

In this hyperconnected society, it makes sense that the solution to misinformation on the virtual sphere is a collective effort by technology, social media companies and regulators.

As we come across problems and crises like fake news and misinformation in social media, it gives cause for deep reflection on the implications of technology in our lives. Nevertheless, such challenges can be used as a catalyst to create a better online space and build a stronger foundation for a fairer environment.

Right of Reply is a company developing innovative solutions for online reputation management, political discourse and social media communications.

Fact or Fiction? Social media as news source increases spread of fake news

Research shows that social media has become the primary news source for most people. Whilst social media represents hyperconnectivity, its mechanisms allow for widespread misinformation and the rise of fake news.

With more than 3 billion users worldwide, there is no doubt social media represents a revolution in the way we communicate with one another. It may be a convenient, easy and cheap way to access information and stay up-to-date — but it is also a minefield of misinformation and fake news.

As social media has become the primary means for businesses, politicians and decision makers to reach their audiences, people are casting newspapers and traditional media aside, instead keeping themselves updated via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

In the U.S., 67 percent of survey participants say they get their news from social media in general, with 45 percent reporting getting it from Facebook alone. The situation in Europe is a little more encouraging but still gives cause for concern. In the EU, 13 percent of consumers say they stay up to date on European politics via social media, with the figure rising to 16 percent regarding domestic politics. In Sweden and Denmark, social media serves as the main source of information for 30 percent of consumers.

This is a particularly worrying problem in emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Nigeria, which are among the biggest markets for WhatsApp and social networks.

During the recent presidential elections in Brazil, a study analysed 100,000 images shared via WhatsApp and found that more than half contained misleading or flatly false information.

In India, where viral fake news has caused chaos and fatal incidents, WhatsApp is set to run TV advertisements to warn users about the problem. The campaign consists of 60-second films where characters go through real life scenarios and demonstrates how to use WhatsApp tools such as how to leave groups that could be propagating misinformation, and how to block unknown senders.

The campaign follows serious criticism of the platform from the Indian government and aims to create wider awareness about the problem ahead of the general elections to be held in India next year.

Even in developed economies and solid democracies, fake news is understood as a problem by the vast majority of the populations. Research by the European Commission showed that 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

The underlying issue with using social media as a news source is that it blinds people to a plural discussion, says Matteo Flora, digital identity expert: “Most people are not used to looking into political debates anymore and are confined inside their own social media bubbles, always consuming the same kind of information.”

A unilateral news diet leads to unhealthy debate and alienation, so it is important to build platforms online where social media users are exposed to different views and don’t end up victims of algorithms that perpetually feed their timelines with stories only of a certain type.

The solution? Social platforms that allow multiple voices

Users are indeed not short of tools to check information themselves, but in the digital era, convenience rules, so building tools that integrate content into one single platform is an efficient and user-friendly way of tackling fake news.

“Fake news is everywhere, misleading us and building misconceptions about people and events. Because it is difficult to identify it in the first place, it is even harder to address it. In these situations, we require smart and holistic solutions that will preserve freedom of expression, privacy but also counter misleading content online,” says Stefania Barbaglio, from Right of Reply.

“Technology is able to help increase media literacy when harnessed effectively. Right of Reply is developing a series of innovative apps and platforms to allow open debate online and fight misinformation.”

In this hyperconnected society, it makes sense that the solution to misinformation on the virtual sphere is a collective effort by technology, social media companies and regulators.

As we come across problems and crises like fake news and misinformation in social media, it gives cause for deep reflection on the implications of technology in our lives. Nevertheless, such challenges can be used as a catalyst to create a better online space and build a stronger foundation for a fairer environment.

Right of Reply is a company developing innovative solutions for online reputation management, political discourse and social media communications.

The internet’s darker side: Fake accounts and fake news threaten to poison the online environment

Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to imagine life without the internet. The virtual world has grown to be a seemingly infinite series of platforms where governments, corporations and individuals all come together; where we can find any information we desire and quick answers to most, if not all, of our questions. And within the vast online realm, social media has become the place where interpersonal interactions happen.

The internet was designed as an open environment. However, the concept was ambitious at the time and society has shaped it as a platform to share and access knowledge and information. In this light, monitoring and regulating such online content may seem to contradict the original principle of the internet, but this is the very thing that ended up happening.

As society becomes progressively more digital, we are facing challenges that once would have been unthinkable — and the solutions remain yet to be discovered. The nature of the internet is vulnerable to the creation of misleading content intended to influence people, which has resulted in the phenomenon of fake news. The huge viral effect fake news and fake accounts, which spreads particularly on social media, is pervading all aspects of today society.

“Fake news is everywhere, misleading us and building misconceptions about people and events. Because it is difficult to identify them in the first place, it is evern harder to address them. Fake news has become a crucial problem in society, effecting individual reputations, warping political elections and public opinion, ultimately threating democracy.” said Stefania Barbaglio, Director at PR Agency Cassiopeia Services.

Research by the European Commission showed that, 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

Fake news is as much as a problem as fake accounts:

Research from Indiana University Network Science Institute indicates that between 9 to 15% of active Twitter accounts are not real, meaning it is very likely that less than 90% of current social media users are humans.

During the six months that ended in March 2018, Facebook disabled a total of almost 1.3 billion accounts that they were deemed to be fake. Out of the remaining accounts Facebook estimates between 3 and 4 percent are likely to be fake. This amounts to between 66 million and 88 million accounts in the network.

Fake News: A political weapon

Social media has become the primary means of communication and interaction for businesses, politicians and decision makers to reach their audiences, limiting the effect of the impact of mainstream and broadcast media.

With widespread political mis-information from the political realm on the social media , voters are increasigngly vulnerable to being manipulated by information fabricated to fit into propaganda.

The problem is indeed both dangerous and subtle, and the solutions to which are still being in the making. In the UK, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee warned that the UK is facing a “democratic crisis”, with voters being manipulated by “pernicious views”. The Committee highlights the “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans”.

Populism and fake news together represent the start of slippery slope towards greater problems of misinformation. In fact, Populist figures address societal concerns with high emotional appeal. The current wave of populists rejects traditional democratic values and globalisation. Fake news is one of their weapons to destroy ‘the establishment’ and turn people against democratic values.

A study from Stanford University analysed the 2016 US elections and found that there had been 115 fake pro-Trump stories on Facebook shared 30 million times, compared to 41 fake pro-Clinton stories shared 7.6 million times.

Harmful Social Media

Recent events have shown that social media’s biggest marke, developing countries — are the ones that have been experiencing the worst headache.

In June, India witnessed the murder of the eight people after rumours about alleged child kidnappers spread via WhatsApp. In 2017 alone, more than 30 deaths were linked to rumours spread via the app.

Given the circumstances, India, a country with 500 million people online, became the worldleader in internet shutdowns, as the government saw it as the only measure to prevent more violent attacks spurred. According to Wired, last year there were 70 shutdowns in the country — a big jump from 31 in 2016 and just 3 in 2012.

“Internet shutdown is the favourite go-to mechanism to handle fake news,” says Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an MP in India.

"Shutting down internet connection, can’t be a solution,’” said Stefania Barbaglio. "Bans, prohibitions, and censorship of social media are never effective in stopping certain behaviours and fighting misinformation. It is up to individuals to take appropriate action and make use of novel solutions to make effective change. We should acknowledge the inherent dangers that lie within the open environment of the internet, but also the new technologies which aim to empower people, will be pivotal in this regard. The Internet is evolving into a new platform for citizens, Internet X, to allow everyone to fully express themselves, share of information, data, and resources."

As much as it feels like the virtual sphere is contaminated, crises like this can in fact be used as a catalyst to build a better online space and build a stronger foundation for a fairer environments. They also reminds us of the importance of carrying the values that sustain our society into every public space — whichever shape or form it may take.

Fake News in Social Media: A threat to democratic values

Social media has become the battlefield for the opposing candidates in Brazil’s 2018 elections. With more than 120 million users in the country, WhatsApp has found itself flooded with false information and conspiracy theories.

Users and voters have been caught up in a web of lies and misinformation about the Workers’ Party candidate via group messages sent to millions of accounts, contributing to a fall in the candidate’s popularity.

An investigation by the main Brazilian newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, has revealed that the far-right campaign candidate Jair Bolsonaro targeted millions of Brazilians ahead of the most critical elections in years using the messaging app WhatsApp. The scheme was financed by corporations and businessmen, an illegal move according to Brazilian law. The influence of this manoeuvre is believed to be skewing the election results towards a victory for Bolsonaro at the end of the month.

A study analysing 100,000 images shared via WhatsApp in Brazil found that more than half contained misleading or flatly false information: very worrying data evidencing the urgency with which the problem should be tackled.

The case in Brazil shows that the coupling of fake news and social media has become one of the strongest political weapons in the digital age, resulting in a feeling of distrust of traditional means of communication and endangering some of the most fundamental pillars of Western societies.

The problem is both dangerous and subtle. Fake news is not a straightforward issue: in fact, it can come in many forms, taking the shape of false claims, edited content, and material used out of context.

“The increase in actions over internet-based communications is a reflection of people’s concerns about their online reputations and the ease with which damaging information about individuals and businesses can be shared and spread,” said Keith Mathieson, head of media at City law firm RPC to the Guardian.

In a society in which civil principles are a priority, fighting fake news is a must, but developing solutions for such a complex problem requires a lot of work, as well as a clear understanding of the dynamics of online interactions and their consequences.

The solution: Creating an environment where individuals can exercise their right of reply

In many countries around the world, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has partnered with fact-checking agencies to evaluate the veracity of information arising in the network. But the efforts made by the social giant are evidently not enough to stop the spread of fake news.

One essential point is to enable victims of fake claims to have a relevant space to tell their truth.

“We are not able to draw a line between what is fake news and what is not, but what we can do is show both sides to a story, giving more detailed information about that story,” says digital reputation and digital activist Matteo Flora, whose new venture Right of Reply offers disruptive solutions for online reputation problems.

Right of Reply is developing a series of blockchain-powered applications to be integrated by online media, which will allow any of its users mentioned in online content to reply directly in a timely manner. Such a platform empowers both readers and personalities, because once provided the multiple facets of a same story, users will be better equipped to judge the truth of a story for themselves.

Right of Reply is based on a unique, disruptive, patented, and yet simple idea: RoR places an overlaying reputation layer upon the internet, newspapers and social media, so that the comment is embedded in the article posts and can be seen by everyone.

“A person mentioned or cited has their reply embedded directly within the content which cites or mentions them. Readers can access the reply directly, allowing the reply to have the same positioning, timing and relevance as the original content.”

“Thanks to blockchain, we can now directly address the problem of fake news. There is no need for third parties to defend or act as guarantor or solution provider anymore, as any individual or enterprise now has the opportunity and the power of action directly at the source,” says Stefania Barbaglio from Right of Reply.