Fake News, the present issue that affects the future

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  1. Fake news emerged even before Trump referred to them. They are, as their own name suggests, false or even deceptive. Their origin is ancient, even secular. With new technologies, everyone felt the consequences. Consumers and information producers were also affected.

Fake news emerged even before Trump referred to them. They are, as their own name suggests, false or even deceptive. Their origin is ancient, even secular. With new technologies, everyone felt the consequences. Consumers and information producers were also affected.

Portugal is one of the countries with most blocked accounts for fake news. According to an article by a Portuguese digital newspaper called Observador, 244 accounts were banned. In comparison to other countries, Portugal has smaller values. United Kingdom occupies the top of the list with the biggest number of accounts blocked. A total of 48 thousand accounts were blocked in EU (European Union).

The beginning of fake news and misinformation

Wikipedia says that fake news are made-up news, that supposedly have evidence, factual information supporting them. They appear in the press, television, radio or even digital media.

Claire Wardle, First Draft´s research director identifies seven types of misinformation:

·       Satire, that does not damage, but is mischievous;

·       Misleading content about an individual or organization;

·       Impostor content, when genuine sources are impersonated with fake sources;

·       Fabricated content, 100% made up, that fools and causes damage;

·       False connection, when the titles, images or captions don´t support the content;

·       False context, genuine content with background;

·       Manipulated content, when genuine information or images are manipulated to deceive;

Fake News, a recent thing?

Fake News are not a recent problem. If we go back to humanities most ancient times we can still find evidence of their existence. A few examples, according to this article on a Brazilian newspaper:

In 1895, in the United States of America, W.L. Thorndyke, editor of a newspaper in Loveland, Colorado published a photograph of a farmer (Joseph B. Swan) with a huge potato on his shoulder. The huge potatoes suddenly gained fame and story had to be denied.

In 1910, the poet and British troll, Horace de Vere Cole wanted to get on a ship and, for that, he called his friends – one of them being Virginia Wolf – and asked them to portray Abyssinian nobles (Ethiopia today). When the truth was discovered the British Navy was mocked.

In 1917, H. L. Mencken said that the bathtub was created in 1842 on North-American soil, but because it was bad for your health it was banned by doctors. However, it was discovered, years later, that it was invented a lot earlier than 1842.

On 1st of April of 1957, in the United Kingdom, the BBC showed a spaghetti harvest. At the time, spaghetti was still a luxurious delicacy, so people believed it and even called to the station to know how it was planted.

In 2009, Richard and Mayumi Heene released a balloon that looked like a spaceship. The couple promised that their six-year-old son was inside of it when he was hidden in the basement. A rescue operation was built to save the little boy. The couple´s intentions were to win some money, but Richard was later sentenced serve 90 days in jail as well was paying a fine and doing community service hours.

The measures taken and fact-checking websites

Although fake news is a problem, there are new measures that have been presented, in Portugal and in the European Union. The Fact Check EU is one of them, a non-profit organization that joins 19 media organisations from various countries such as France, Germany, Greece, United Kingdom, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden.

According to Lusa, a Portuguese News Agency, the European Union is concerned about this subject and has launched a Joint Action Plan where the final goal is online auto-regulation, a behaviour conduct subscript by Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Mozilla. It also contains a Fast System Alert. The Fast System Alert was launched on 18th of March and allows the coordination between state-members about fake-news even before European elections.

There are also sites that already have this problem on perspective. The Polígrafo is a Portuguese newspaper that was born by the hands of Fernando Esteves, a journalist, where the content production goes through a serious verification with journalistic investigation. There are five steps that the newspaper states that must be fulfilled: the original source must be consulted as well as sources of documental nature to solidify the checking, the authors of the statements must be heard, the information must be contextualized and evaluated according to a scale.

Google also began to be careful and try to resolve this issue, highlighting content verified by journalists.

From Zuckerberg, Facebook is using artificial intelligence to detect fake news that were discovered before and are now being duplicated. According to the Portuguese magazine Visão, Facebook will be able to predict what will be the pages that have more probability of sharing fake news.

POLIFACT is an American website that tests political affirmations done by Americans, news from the political section but also other types. It won a Pulitzer prize and it was bought by the Poytner Institute in 2018. Inside the website, it features the Truth-o-Meter, that measures the statement´s level of truth. It also has an app for mobile devices, the POLITRUTH, that quizzes political knowledge as well as susceptibility to fake news.

Conferences and social awareness

There are also conferences being given such as LUSA, a Portuguese news agency, called “Fake News Combat – A Democratic Question” on 21st of February of 2019 in Lisbon. The Faculty of Arts and Humanities of University of Porto organized a conference called “Fake News and New Media” that was given by José Chrispiano in 14th of March in 2019.

Who is affected by fake news? What consequences do they bring?

Fake news affects people and affects journalism. In a post on a Brazilian website called Observatório de Mídia, Gabrielli Silva says that fake news could end with a person´s or institution]s reputation. For journalism, fake news destroyed their credibility, leading to the existence of too much information but also a lot of misinformation. Journalists waste a lot of time verifying sources, time that could be spent deepen their stories.

According to PROOF, another Brazilian website, some of the consequences include false accusations, that could ruin someone´s image, political influence, mainly on social platforms where they are shared and quickly spread, and bullying or even threats.

How to spot fake news?

According to Wikipedia, there are things that we should consider to help us figure out if the information is fake or not. So, you should:

·       Consider the source, verifying the site, their mission and contacts;

·       Read all the information on the article, because the title could be misleading just to obtain more clicks (click bait);

·       Research the author and the sources that support the story;

·       Verify the date, it could just be an old story reposted;

·       In case of exaggeration, it could be satire;

·       You should ask for help from professionals as well as using fact-checking websites;

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