4.7. Fake news and propaganda

Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts in order to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language in order to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented (Wikipedia contributors, 2020b). In the digital era we are going through, this deliberate attempt to disseminate information is also taking place on digital platforms with the purpose of deceiving and misleading. This may be termed “digital propaganda” (Bjola, 2018, p. 307).

Ways to counteract

With so much information available in all digital platforms, it is easy to get duped. Studies show that approximately 75% of people, who see fake news, are not able to recognize they are actually fake. Therefore, a quick way to check, whether a piece of information is real or not, is by using the C.R.A.P. Test. Find out if the article is Current, Reputable, if the Author is credible and finally the Purpose and Point of view of the article (CyberWise, 2019). Definitely common sense is always needed. Some ways to spot fake news are briefly shown below (How to Spot Fake News, n.d.).

  1. Consider the source: Try to learn more about the source and consider whether it is credible. 
  2. Read beyond: Headlines may be scandalous, in order to obtain more clicks. Search further information about the narrated story and try to find out the truth.
  3. Check the author: Has the author made other posts, except from the current one? Has he received any comments or judgment concerning his credibility?
  4. Supporting sources: Usually a website lists other links relating to the subject of the article provided. Check whether those links are really related to the initial article or they are just misleading.
  5. Check the date: Is the information up-to-date or is it reposted?
  6. Is it a joke? In case the information is really bizarre, it might be satire. You have to check again the author and the source, in order to be sure.
  7. Check your biases: Think about whether the news you are reading, how it influences your own biases. You might probably reject them, because you do not agree. But this does not make the news fake. 
  8. Ask the experts: There are some fact-checking sites you can visit, in order to be sure about the information provided.

There are two more essential domains, which we need to consider, when we want to spot fake news. The first one is the facticity and the second one is the author’s immediate intention. Facticity refers to the degree news reflects reality. For instance, satire presents real facts but in a differentiated context, while parodies present fictitious content (Tandoc et al., 2017, p. 142). Author’s immediate intention refers to the degree the author intends to misinform and mislead the audience. He might really want to deceive and mislead the audience, but he might also be duped, thus transferring fake news.

Case studies 

An example of a propaganda campaign is the one between Russia and the United States of America, concerning the presidential elections of 2016. The main reason behind shaping the election results was the appearance of a variety of fake news in order to direct American citizens to vote for Trump. Cambridge Analytica, a company that specializes in analyzing data and building psychological profiles for political purposes using data collected from American Facebook users, compiled the electoral profiles of thousands of people in the run-up to the presidential election to support Donald Trump’s election campaign. Facebook users who were analyzed were divided in two categories. The first included voters who intended to vote for Trump’s opponent, while the second included those who intended to abstain. This was followed by a targeted fake news campaign about Hillary Clinton. The “news” presented to the first-class voters was intended to persuade them not to vote, while those seen on the second-class cell phone were intended to urge them to vote for Trump. According to a Stanford University survey, 41% of fake news in the last month before the election went viral. Facebook has officially admitted that 126 million Americans, about 40% of the total US population, saw news and posts on social networks, which were “planted” by the now infamous Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg (Tsompanidis, 2018). 

An example of the ease fake news are nowadays spread, is the discovery of new homemade recipes, which are supposed to kill Covid-19, the new coronavirus. We heard things like “drinking alcohol kills the virus”, “drinking chlorine dioxide boosts the immune system”.  These views are, at least, dangerous. But a recipe that was quickly circulated on social media was the one supporting that boiled garlic kills Covid-19 “Good news, Wuhan’s coronavirus can be cured by one bowl of freshly boiled garlic water. Old Chinese doctor has proven its efficacy.  Many patients have also proven this to be effective. Eight (8) cloves of chopped garlic add seven (7) cups of water and bring to boil. Eat and drink the boiled garlic water, overnight improvement and healing. Glad to share this” (Spencer, 2020). This rumor was so disseminated that the World Health Organization (WHO) knocked it down reporting “Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus” (Spencer, 2020).

For more information regarding propaganda in the digital age and fake news you can visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5__dZBZuzZc&ab_channel=OsloFreedomForum
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4o0B6IDo50&ab_channel=CyberWise
https://www.cyberwise.org/fake-news
https://www.cybercivics.com/

References

Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211–236. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.31.2.211

Bjola, C. (2018). The Ethics of Countering Digital Propaganda. Ethics & International Affairs, 32(3), 305–315. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0892679418000436

CyberWise. (2019, August 10). What Is Fake News? YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4o0B6IDo50&ab_channel=CyberWise

How to spot fake news. n.d. [Illustration]. https://www.lib.sfu.ca/help/research-assistance/fake-news#how-to-spot-fake-news-in-eight-simple-steps

Spencer, S. H. (2020, February 11). Fake Coronavirus Cures, Part 2: Garlic Isn’t a “Cure.” FactCheck.Org.                                              

https://www.factcheck.org/2020/02/fake-coronavirus-cures-part-2-garlic-isnt-a-cure/

Tandoc, E. C., Lim, Z. W., & Ling, R. (2017). Defining “Fake News.” Digital Journalism, 6(2), 137–153. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2017.1360143

Tsompanidis, G. (2018) “Translated bibliography”. Propaganda from the point of view of modern international law.  

Wikipedia contributors. (2020b, December 20). Propaganda. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda

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