The Internet is a beautiful thing. It gives millions of people all around the world the opportunity to access any information they desire to set their eyes upon. It also allows anyone to create anything they want and say whatever they want to say, but this is where the Internet gets a little too confident with us Humans. Fake News, a form of journalism with its foundations buried in the notion of “misinformation or hoaxes” has quickly become prevalent through not only traditional media but throughout the wide reaches of digital outlets and social media.
The article that provoked my discussion today, “Company forces staff to crawl around lake for punishment for missed sales target”, shows all the signs that it is more than likely to be an item of Fake News. Firstly, after some considerable time trying to find the article that was said to come from “People’s Daily Online” nothing seemed to be even close to resembling such an event. My attention was then drawn to the photographs of the people crawling around the lagoon. I used a screen shot from my source material and input it into Google’s image search. My top result was an article by the Daily Mail which listed practically the same content that was used in my source material, also stating People’s Daily as the original source. Taking a further look into the text content of the article itself, no individuals are specifically named nor the company that ordered the event to take place. Leaving no proof from any source that the event is in fact real. Chinese social media users are quoted, but upon investigation of the platform Weibo, no posts linked to the stated names could be found. In my opinion, this research has lead me to believe that the article in question is falsified.
Imagine that the collective mind of a democracy is a pond, and news outlets, governments and businesses are the children throwing pebbles into the water. These pebbles are influencing the water, splashing and rippling the surface of the minds of a country or nation. Upon doing so they can change tides and break banks; but you would need a pretty big pebble to do that, not to mention a rather strong child.
The falsification and augmentation of the news is not a new happening in media. Governments have been doing it for a very long time and quite blatantly once you analyse it. The Vietnam war is an abject example of how manipulating the information fed to a population can very quickly fly back in your face. Jon Evans from Tech Crunch argues that “The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on the search for truth.” I very much agree with what Jon is eluding to. Put your hand in your pocket and pull out your phone, open Facebook and there you go. No matter how many friends you have on Facebook; you are connected with the world in a matter of touches. Heck, if you touch that screen in the right places you can even talk directly to the individual who made the thing. What we have at work is not only a global scale game of Chinese whispers, but also massive corporations and governments in the room shouting through megaphones influencing that global whisper. Before even educating individuals about avoiding fake news, they first have to care about avoiding it. But people really don’t care anymore.
Social media is not at blame for allowing the megaphone holders to get their voice heard the loudest, that’s just how megaphones work. People just need to be aware that what they are reading isn’t always going to be true and social media creators like Facebook are actually trying to make that happen through providing the necessary literature. But how do we get people to read it in the first place? The 2016 US Presidential Election is a perfect example of how the manipulation of news media through user sources on social media can have great effect. We now know that Russia, whether it did end up influencing the vote or not, did have a hand in trying to at least alter it. Russian western based, Kremlin funded news outlets such as RT, Sputnik and Ruptly were running target advertising prior to the election; getting their voice heard, even if you weren’t actually listening for it. Russia itself actually has control over masses of bot accounts on western platforms such as Twitter specifically to sway, influence and control the size of the ripples being made.
Why falsify bogus articles in the first place? Influence and political sway has been at the backbone of every journalistic output from the beginning of journalism itself, no matter how hard they try to remain impartial. It’s incredibly hard not to have an opinion on such matters, so you wouldn’t really blame them. Not only is political influence one result from possible fake news, but also financial gain. If you write something incredibly jaw dropping, people are probably going to read it. The ‘Click-bate’ fashion is a murky reality of the human attention span; feeding our necessity for drama and excitement. But at what point do we all just get desensitised from the whole ordeal? Not long I hope.
Why should we really care that the article in question is possibly fake? In my opinion we really shouldn’t, but neither should we not care. Traditional journalism is built upon the common scientific model that states that something is only true if it is tested and measured against hard evidence and agreed through multiple sources. Even our western democracies are built upon this method and for the most part it has worked very well. So why should we abandon it in our lives now? I optimistically hypothesise that the Left has learnt its lesson after not only the election but also Brexit for that matter, through being influenced by not only themselves, but also the very people who they opposed, all without even knowing it was happening.