A popular sarcasm with the internet is – ‘If it is online, it must be true’. A few decades ago, the internet was a very censored place, where anything that appeared would probably be from an authority site. That trust people built on the internet over the time is carried on till date.
The Freedom of Press has become a debate
In a parliamentary system, the press is called the 4th estate of democracy after the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. This is a title well deserved by it because while all other mechanisms can fail, the people, their awareness and the concerned public opinion cannot.
The public has every right to remain well informed, and thus almost every nation across the globe (few exceptions apart) have mandated the freedom of the Press. The media and press have no less power than any other estate of the democracy. They can trigger protests, change governments and manipulate the law in the long run.
However, with huge power comes huge responsibility. If media resorts to corrupt practices or becomes biased towards a particular person or ideology, it could shatter the foundation of democracy, for people might form wrong opinions.
How has media changed over time?
When the importance of media was an essential debate back in the 1900’s, it was limited to newspapers or written Press in general. With time it shifted to televised media, and now it is all about online media, social media and phone app-based media.
While recognized authority organizations still handle the other forms, online media and social media remain widely unregulated.
Social media has a huge impact on the younger generation because they spend most of their time on social networking sites. Thus, they read most of their news in their feeds when logged on to Facebook or Twitter.
Whatever is seen there is likely to be perceived as true. However, social media, to quite an extent, is an expression of individual opinion which is bound to be biased. But even more, it is the hub for marketing propaganda news. It might not be so easy to be fooled by fake news in general when searched through search engines, but social media makes it unrecognizable.
Fake News vs Satire
One thing is satire, where the intent of writing false news is humor. It is mentioned as a disclaimer that the story is false, and at times, it is evident by the heading. However, fake news is different. When we use the word fake news, it means propaganda, hoaxes, disinformation, etc. Disguised as real news, spread with the intent to fool people.
Fake news websites on the internet pretend to be an authority and at times name their websites in similar to well-known news authority brands. Eg. Bloomberg.ma to imitate Bloomberg.com. In many cases, the fake website copied everything from the logo to the site’s structure.
Thanks to the social media revolution, fake news websites have a huge approach to the public now. They intend to shake the foundation of democracy. Eg. A lot of fake news websites mushroomed during the 2016 US Presidential Elections to side with political parties.
One thing noticed during the US Presidential Elections in 2016 was that the media became polarized with different media outlets writing news biased towards various political parties. The standard of good news is to cover news of importance and set priority criteria. For whatever news is covered, both the sides of the story should be reported.
Exaggerated news would mean not to report a part of the main news and exaggerate whatever is said to favor a person or ideology. As they say, a half-truth is worse than a complete lie; exaggerated news is harmful to a true democracy.
It might be worse than news published on fake news websites because the reader might believe it blindly considering that it has been published on an authority site.
Types of fake news websites
- Using names similar to those of known news brands: This is something that has been done with almost every known news website. The website owner would make a duplicate website with a similar logo and slightly different name. At times the personal information of the website owner is hidden from the online database. The intent is to make the readers believe that the information published on these fake news sites are from the authority site they are imitating.
- Creating biased political websites: A strong purpose of many news websites is to bias political opinion in favor of a particular party. This is because political parties represent political opinions which may favor or be against particular communities and their interests. In many countries, politics is a huge craze and thus people create news websites which grossly favor certain political opinions.
- Clickbait websites: Other than spreading propaganda, financial returns is a reason for the flourishing of so many fake news websites. The news they write is exactly what they believe people want to read. When people open their sites and check the ads, it helps the website owners build revenue.
Fake news sites list
The list is endless and probably as many new fake news websites are launched as they are shut down. What you need to observe to identify a fake news site is its domain. They usually copy the name of some major real news site. Some examples of such websites are – cnn-trending.com, bloomberg.ma, drudgeReport.com.co, usatoday.com.co, washingtonpost.com.co, and so on.
Measures to control fake news websites
Any news website has two ways of reaching the masses.The first one is to be approved for Google News or Bing News and ranked for their search engine. It is the same with other search engines. However, this is tough because of the strict quality criteria and monitoring. The second method is to reach people through social media like Facebook and Twitter. As of recent, Facebook has introduced an option to report fake news and Twitter might follow the trend soon.
Despite the laws assisting in the freedom of the press, fake news is illegal in most countries. Thus, to prevent the problem from spreading further, many countries are teaming up to cross check the false news.
The European Commission is contributing more resources towards checking the fake news. Germany is setting up a center to monitor disinformation. 17 newsrooms in France are also joining hands with Facebook and Google to overcome the problem.
The human tendency is to immediately share something if the ‘news’ is something the person likes or wants to be true! But before sharing indiscriminately, we as users must fact check all the news available online by comparing it with what all has been published on authority websites.