Into the previous article, I showed how fake news spreaded in our society giving some popular example for that. I left out the definitions for Fake news and soe others interesting words just because I took for granted all the readers knew it.
Enjoy this second part!
How does Fake News work?
Internet has turned out not to be the paradise many people thought it would be at the beginning; it has not increased knowledge for real. It is certainly a useful and necessary tool, but it lost its didactic function, if it have ever had one.
The proliferation of fake news has been possible primarily thanks to the ignorance, lack of time and superficiality of people who surf the net. Middle class men with a low level of education are the easiest target for such hoaxes precisely because they lack the necessary capacity to check and control this type of news.
Researchers argue that beliefs have a strong emotional components and very often fake news or alternative events touch this irrational part. Moved by this unconscious component, the readers forget to apply any kind of ‘scientific method’ to the information they receive. Having read the headline of the article many people do not seek to confirm on other online newspapers and websites whether the article is based on truth.
Social media plays a major role in this mad game of misinformation: a huge number of adults catch news feeds from the most popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Their strength lies in their velocity of information transmission: they give many inputs to the readers who do not pay attention either to the sources or the quality of information and blindly trust what they read.
Furthermore, some people fail to understand ironic articles that appear on satirical sites; it is unfair to speak about hoaxes or alternative realities in such cases, as the motives of the writers in these cases are not devious. Website like “The Onion”, “Lercio” or “Clickhole” post news satires on a daily basis. The issues arise when some readers who lack the ability to grasp the satirical tone of the pages believe the news to be true and share and comment accordingly.
When a person comes across some unusual or fantastic article on the internet, they should be humble enough to ask whether it is credible and seek to verify the content before sharing that news on social platforms.
“Social media platforms such as Facebook have a dramatically different structure than previous media technologies. Content can be relayed among users with no significant third party filtering, fact-checking, or editorial judgement”
How is fake news made? Comic author Dustin Rogers, who became popular on the web thanks to his illustrations, explained the concept trough a very clear illustration where he compared a real fact with a fat cow and the news with different meat cuts. He showed how media and newspapers re-elaborate all the information they receive and how they sell it to their audience. Similarly, fake news editors take something real – an interview, something that happened for real or else a supposition – and rework it, butchering the meat and adding some tasty spice.
One popular area of Fake News that is easy to analyse is the football transfer market. Practically all sports newspapers report transfer hoaxes on their pages during the transfer season. This kind of news spreads very rapidly on social media, fan blogs and website thanks to the huge number of interested readers. Most of the time, the journalists’ have no ‘bad’ intentions in this type of information – though some newspaper print sensational headlines just to catch fans’ attention and sell few more copies. As former English footballer Gary Lineker tweeted “If you’re accurate more people will read you. 90% of transfer stories are guesswork in the hope of getting lucky.” Soccer journalists seek to catch the most accurate information about possible transfers all around the world so as to be the first news media to publish information. Football rumours are an excellent example of post-truth news where the readers do not care so much about reliability but, moved by their ‘passion’ and interest, they nevertheless trust what journalists write.
IN 2008, Irish journalist and Arsenal supporter Declan Varley carried out what he termed a ‘social experiment’ to verify the weakness of soccer transfer rumours and how easy it was to to build a popular hoax. He invented a young Moldovan player supposedly reported by the Arsenal talent scouts who was close to being transferred to the North-west London team. For almost six weeks he wrote frequent articles and other kinds of news about this player on fans’ blogs and similar pages. He was very careful in the information building process, gradually creating a young talent profile and his rise in professional football. Varley’s ultimate success came when The Times placed Masal Bugduv on the list of the top 50 young players in Europe in the 30th position.
“People will believe what they want to believe,” Varley said. “And there is a desire to be seen as though you are in the know, not to want to admit you aren’t on top of the game.”
Below is a set of headlines taken from Tuttosport the popular sport newspaper from Turin. Journalists in Turin usually report any transfer rumours related to Juventus, one of the most famous football teams in Italy. None of these players ended up playing for Juventus over the years, most of the time it was not news but merely an assumption.
Not every item of fake news is successful: sometimes the information is so absurd that it is easily exposed. What are the key points for fabricating believable news? While I have already illustrated some of them above, I will now list all the most salient features:
- The headline. This is the most important element for fake news. It reveals the topic of the article in advance and it draws the reader’s attention. All the most popular fake news quoted above had catchy headlines in order to entice the reader to open the website or to buy the newspaper.
- Accuracy of information. Even if the fact reported has not actually occurred and has been completely invented, it needs to be believable. Nobody would trust a page that affirms “Aliens support the Trump campaign”; instead, for many who held political convictions in line with Republican values Pope Francis’ endorsement of Donald Trump sounded trustworthy. We can better understand this point if we consider Varley’s joke: Arsenal has a long tradition with young talented players and an excellent scouting team, so it was not so unrealistic that they would be interested in a teen prodigy from eastern Europe.
- Pathos in place of The article should appeal to the readers’ irrational part, upsetting their emotion. Such pieces want to generate an overstated reaction so as to prevent any follow up control on the topic and source. This is a very common rhetorical device often used in politics.
- Choose the right communication channels. It seems obvious but in such a vast space as the internet and social media it is easily ignored. Nowadays there are an infinite ways to share an information but doing successfully it is not effective immediately. A lots of blogs, website, Facebook pages and groups or Twitter account can be helpful to share in a short our information just because they propose an “alternative way” to get information. People loose their trust in traditional newspaper and media because they argue
- Communicate with simple yet very technical language. The article is most likely to be read very quickly and often, as research has shown many times, the audience will be composed of uneducated people who lack the tools needed to analyse the information and verify the accuracy of the news given.
Different institutions are working to contrast and restrict the endemic spread of fake news on Internet. Mark Zuckemberg, Facebook CEO, declared his total commitment to fight false information on his Social Network after he get hostly contested for helping unintentionally Donald Trump during the campaign and election.
The social network’s efforts to curb fake news followed widespread backlash about the site’s role in proliferating misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. The rocky rollout of Facebook fact-checking is as much a product of the enormity of the problem of internet propaganda as it is a reflection of what critics say is a failure by the company to take this challenge seriously.
Germany moved in the same way and the Germany Parliament approved a new law to block and penalize who publish or share any kind of fake news. They want to prevent what happened in USA and UK general election – the Bundesrepublik Deutschland is going to vote on 24 September; furthermore, they want to halt growing racial hate against immigrants and refugees moved by right wing party with daily fake news. Today Germany is the only one state in the world who is activing fighting against this ‘malware’ with tech companies and media even if Ukraine is moving in this way.
Recently journalists have a new instrument to verify information: “an automated fact-checking system that quickly alerts them to false claims made in the press, on TV and in parliament.” This program scan every politician declaration, statement or interview to avoid spreading of “junk news” on internet.
All of them recognize the Russian online news like Sputnik or RT as the real danger for the free press and information: those websites combine real news with many junk facts and it become demanding to find out what really happened on a circumstance.
If 2016 has been the year of Fake news we can affirm 2017 is trying to be the year of ‘anti-fake news’. We are now more focused on this topic than the previous years when we consider easy for everyone to recognize a hoax. It was not truth. I tried to explain how the fake news machinery works focusing my attention on some details. I overlooked the role of internet trolls, just because they are an intermediate category of hoaxes maker with no clear intention.
What is going to happen in the next future? In my opinion, national governments, media and social media will vigorously work to stem this phenomenon even if a large portion of society had gave up to trust traditional media and they lack of trust on State work.
-  https://web.stanford.edu/~gentzkow/research/fakenews.pdf
-  The complete cartoon: http://www.webtoons.com/en/comedy/dustinteractive/ep-54-news-dogs/viewer?title_no=907&episode_no=54&utm_source=dustin_fb&utm_medium=dustin_fb&utm_campaign=dustin_fb&utm_term=dustin_fb&utm_content=54
-  https://twitter.com/GaryLineker/status/883039969736052736
-  http://sportslens.com/the-curious-case-of-masal-bugduv/20613/#xCfqbsChECgR8brC.97
-  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/13/sports/soccer/premier-league-transfers-window.html?mtrref=t.co&_r=0
-  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/16/facebook-fake-news-tools-not-working
-  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/08/fake-news-full-fact-software-immune-system-journalism-soros-omidyar