How do we stop the spread of fake news? – Labour Article

How do we stop the spread of fake news? – Labour Article

At a time paramount to trust science, we have seen an increase in the circulation of fake news. The internet’s ability to share knowledge and opinions around the world has further fueled the spread of false stories that appear to be news. These types of stories are commonly shared on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. And, have increasingly crept into the mainstream.

It seems unfathomable that this pseudo-news would be spread by any leader of Western democracy. Let alone the leader of the supposed greatest democracy in the world. However, the Trump administration has continued to perpetuate lies throughout the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump falsely claims that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for this virus. Donald Trump Jr was suspended from Twitter after supporting his father’s claims through sharing videos of the benefits of hydroxychloroquine. President Trump and his associates are arguably the most influential people on Twitter. Therefore, it is critical that these false claims get taken down.

But why are people so quick to believe these stories without fact-checking them? Canadian psychologist Gordon Pennycook found evidence to suggest many people will share a story before having a chance to reflect on the veracity of it.

Germany’s ‘Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz’ (a German law aiming to combat fake news on social media) was put in place in 2018. This is one of the most ambitious of Western democracies to crack down on what is viewed and posted online. Social media sites are given 24 hours to remove illegal content; failure to do so results in fines of up to 50 million Euros.

It is necessary to apply this kind of financial pressure on large organizations. If governments do not threaten their wallets. These tech giants will do little to hold back the tide of dangerous propaganda. As we have seen a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes since 2018 it is imperative that these social media organizations crackdown on this and that governments are proactive in holding them to account.

However, what I disagree with in this law in tackling illegal content in the time period given. This is because hate speech isn’t always easily identifiable. And, a longer time span will allow for more reliable checks on its validity.

Such a radical approach should not be applied to fake news which isn’t hate speech or other illegal content, such as the flat earth theory. It is not helpful for the State to police what is classed as false and what isn’t since a lot of it is rooted within anti-government and anti-establishment rhetoric. Besides, it is not always clear what is misinformation and what is not.

Therefore, the ambitious law to tackle fake news within 24 hours can be seen as infringing on people’s freedom of speech. This kind of time pressure is more likely to help rather than hinder the support for such stories. Since the adoption of the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz there have been complaints from German officials that too much online content was being blocked and that the law needed to be reformed.

In an attempt to reduce the spread of misinformation Facebook uses a type of algorithm called signals. Through this, Facebook identifies potential misinformation which is then passed onto fact-checking partners. This is to review the credibility of the story in interviewing primary sources, consulting public data, and conducting analyses of media. Where this falls short is its reliance on the original source. Since disinformation can spread like wildfire online, it is difficult to locate where the source originated from.

The 2016 US election saw an astounding number of people fall victim to ‘pizzagate’. This was the conspiracy theory that presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was connected to a human trafficking ring. As this false information was distributed so extensively, the origin could not be tracked having an undeniable impact on people’s votes.

Unfortunately, fake news will always be accessible to internet users. The focus, therefore, needs to be on reducing its spread and educating the public to recognize inaccurate reportings online. Spotting fake news can be difficult especially when the President of the United States and his campaign are spreading false claims like ‘children are almost immune’ [from COVID].

Organizations like Facebook and Twitter should be more proactive in tackling false stories. By, for example, placing warnings on stories with unreliable content and suggesting fact check sources. This sort of tactic provides the public with the resources to verify the content before sharing without the risk of eroding free speech.

Written by Guest Labour Writer, Dominic Verlaque

Point of Information

What can we do? – A Liberal response

Fake news is something that has become a real, serious issue in the last few years. So much so, it was named 2017’s word of the year by Collins. And, Dominic is absolutely right to say that it is something that is becoming more and more a part of social media.

It was a tactic that the Trump campaign employed – very successfully – in the 2016 election. Since then, it is something that the Trump administration has used to change the media cycle and detract from negative news headlines.

I also agree with Dominic that putting financial pressure on the big social media firms seems to be one of the most effective ways to get them to tackle the issue. The problem, however, is that by its’ very nature, social media makes it extremely difficult to prevent. Once a fake news article is out there, to use a topical analogy, it spreads like a virus. Fact-checking is the easiest way to pick apart a piece of fake news. But sadly a lot of people still believe everything they read on the internet to be true. Fake news often uses extraordinary headlines and claims as clickbait, enticing readers in and getting them to share it.

The biggest problem for governments in dealing with fake news is trying to stop it spreading without infringing on people’s right to free speech. Those of you who read my response to an article on cancel culture will know where I stand on this. As Dominic points out, Germany has experienced the difficulties of this.

The solution then? Using algorithms to try to stop these articles from spreading, making fact-checking more readily accessible, and using financial pressure to force the media companies into action with tangible results. I fear, however, that as its use becomes more and more widespread, and it continues to have a significant impact on public opinion, the war on fake news is going to be an uphill struggle.

Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Fergus Harris.

Fake news is a growing problem – A Conservative Response

With the US Presidential Election coming up, Dominic has raised an extremely poignant issue that needs to be addressed. It is pleasing to see that social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook have started to act upon fake news. They either ban the account, brand the post as ‘fake news’ to warn users, or take down the post.

I do like Dominic’s idea of putting financial pressure on these companies. But, that could drive them out of the country as they would see the pressure as a sort of “tax”. However, it is implemented in a similar fashion as with what Germany has done then I would support the movement.

With freedom of speech being such an important part of people’s lives, I doubt the fight will be easy as Fergus has mentioned. AI and algorithms could indeed be a solution but I do not trust technology to do the job properly. For now, social media companies should create further jobs to filter out these fake news stories.

As soon as some people catch on and believe in a faker news story, it will spread like wildfire. It will then be too difficult to prove that the story is ‘fake’. Social media companies should seriously consider creating further employment opportunities to combat fake news, whilst also considering freedom of speech and expression. The fight shall not be easy by far but small steps can be taken to improve fact-checking.

Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski.

Fergus Harris
Senior Liberal Writer | Website

I am a second year student reading History and International Relations at the University of Exeter. After my degree, I am hoping to do a Journalism MA.

Max Jablonowski
Conservative Writer | Website

I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.

Dominic Verlaque

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