We’ve always had misinformation, only now it’s branded as “Fake News” and on everyone’s Facebook timeline. It used to be found exclusively in tabloid newspapers and cable news channels, ones that aren’t legally eligible for any journalism awards. Because they don’t abide by any standards, and are typically owned by men named Rupert.
People have always consumed biased pieces of media, that lie and distort the truth in order to reinforce their readers long-held world-views. Except now you don’t need access to a $60 a month cable package, or to thumb through your physical tabloid of choice.
There’s a commercial that Facebook have been circulating recently that essentially apologises for their behaviour in the last few years. It’s a typical tech-company advertisement, with a white background and lots of images of everyday people enjoying everyday life. With a little section in the middle that mentions fake news, data-breaches and mistrust. All before sharply cutting back to “normal” people enjoying “normal” things. Whatever that means.
As this is an opinion piece about misinformation; Here’s a disclaimer to say that the following quotations have been made-up for comedic purposes.
“We’re sorry we stored information about your newborn baby, so that we can begin marketing to her when she sets up a Facebook account in a few years time.”
“Wait, you did- what was that?”
“We’re sorry we showed you false information about candidates in the election. We thought you wanted to read about school-shootings being hoaxed by liberals, before you went to the polls.”
“Well you said they were so-“
“We’re sorry we made-up that terror attack and had you worried for your friend who’s on holiday in Morocco. She’s actually fine, and from her search terms she may be pregnant. It’ll be a boy and we’re harvesting his information too! Yay!”
“Hang on a minute!”
Here is a link to the actual advert. They never specify how they’re going to solve the problem, and the whole agonising minute digests like some Orwellian nightmare.
I check Facebook once a day, to quickly see what family members are up to. I live abroad, so at its core, Facebook provides an excellent service for me and my loved ones. Only, as I’m catching up on the daily antics of people in the UK, I still see “Fake News” stories shared. Despite the well-lit commercial promises to combat such misinformation.
Out of the first thirty posts on my timeline, three of them were what would be considered Fake News by anyones standards.
The first was a made-up terror threat from 2016, presented as though it had happened today. Judging by the comments below the article, it convinced the person sharing the “story” that it had taken place. This sews false seeds of both terror and racism, in a world already filled with too much of both.
The second was more of a comedic fabrication about a serious incident, but one that had at least convinced the sharer that it was real. This establishes the outlet as a credible source of information to that particular user.
The third was false information about a rape case, that sought to defend the rapist. Which was easily disproved with a quick read of an article from a well-established and reputable source. The purpose of this article is to encourage misogyny and perpetuate a dangerous myth about victims of sexual assault.
All three of these stories had the appearance of mainstream news. They were formatted in similar ways to official news stories from reputable outlets, but they always have names like…
I really hope those links aren’t real.
It amazes me that someone would share something without first checking the source, but then again, people have always bought tabloid newspapers that spout fear-mongering stories, designed to sway opinion and spread chaos in our democracy.
The game’s still the same, but it’s instantaneous now.
The hype-train of ‘Facebook is entirely terrible’, is one that I can’t bring myself to board completely. I’ve bought a ticket, sure, but I haven’t packed by suitcase just yet.
It’s the social media platform that older demographics have latched on to, for a multitude of reasons, and I think it’s incredibly important for people of all generations to stay connected in an increasingly digital world. It must be terrifying to be entirely disconnected in a society that encourages as many connections as possible.
Plus, there isn’t a single billion-dollar media company out there that isn’t doing something nefarious. I use Twitter and they certainly have their own issues.
Personally, I like the idea of media literary classes for all. Some schools in Europe already have it on the curriculum, but I’d like to see every citizen take some kind of test that qualifies them to use social media platforms. Although attempting to educate society doesn’t usually go down well with most of the political classes.
It’d be similar to driving tests. You take a test to ensure your safety on the road, so that you aren’t a danger to yourself or others. Misinformation in one country can lead to deaths in another. Voting one way based on false-promises can lead to a chain reaction of global events that sees the slow dismantling of 20th century democracy.
I’m looking at you Brexit Leave Campaign.
Growing up during the rise of the internet, I remember teachers telling us regularly to not believe anything we read online. They said that Wikipedia wasn’t a good source of information because “anyone can just say anything they want”. Despite the fact that citations are given, and it’s clear whenever they’re not.
And now we’re in a place where that same generation of teachers are believing everything they see on their Facebook feeds, simply because it’s muddled among Sharon’s drunken posts about her ex-husband and Claire’s advertisements for her luxury bath-bombs.
You’re involved in a pyramid scheme Claire, they don’t have the heart to tell you, but I do. Believe in yourself Claire, make your own bath-bombs!
It’s not entirely generational. I know people older than me who’re just as savvy with their media literacy as I am, if not more-so. And equally I have old school-friends who blindly share misinformation like it’s going out of style.
It’s not, it’s very on-trend. Fake News is vogue. I think I used that word right.
Ultimately, I don’t mind which way elections swing. I just want the playing field to be fair and balanced. What scares me is that we have ruling parties across the West who’re doing very little to challenge Fake-News. Zuckerberg keeps getting off lightly in his hearings, and I can’t help but feel like he’s just at them for show.
The rapid spread of misinformation is going to continue to be one of the key problems of the century. All I can encourage anyone to do is to check sources and recognise when an opinion piece is an opinion piece. I’ll give you a clue, this is an opinion piece.
And at election time, search your hearts and minds. Gather information from reputable sources and have discussions with friends and family. Prove each other wrong with facts and statistics, and be open to each other’s world-views before coming to your own, private decision that’s fact-based.
I’ll leave you with a snippet of conversation my London-based friends and I had with an Uber driver a couple of months back.
“So aren’t they banning screwdrivers and scissors from the UK now? Because of all the crime.”
“No, that’s not true. Where are you getting your news from?”
Today is Friday, June 15th and it’s difficult to inject comedy into such a serious topic.
Have any thoughts on all of this? Do you have any examples of Fake News you’ve seen online? Let me know in the comments below!