What is fake news?
It’s fake stories that are deliberately spread as news in order to influence the populace’s politics. The phrase has become widespread in recent years, and the implications are quite serious. This article will deal with fake news and politics. Part two of this series will deal with how to tell real news from fake.
The extent of the problem
It may surprise people to know that fake news is as old as Plato and Socrates. The manipulation of information for profit, or other reasons, is nothing new. With the advance of the internet, however, it can reach many more people than before.
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Socrates sets out the idea of prisoners chained to a cave wall. Having lived their entire lives in the cave, and never seeing anything but the shadows cast by unseen puppeteers, these shadows form their entire world.
One of the prisoners eventually leaves the cave and attempts to enlighten the others with info of the outside world. However, these trapped prisoners are certain that the shadows are the truth. In democracies, the ideal of freedom of speech means that both the truth and lies have equal grounds to be broadcast and heard. Therein lies the problem as Plato set it out.
Fake news also works for despots in countries that are not democratic. Though a free press has been lauded by politicians like U.S. President James Madison, even when they don’t agree with them, in some places the idea of journalism is being attacked, ensuring that views that don’t align with the political power are delegitimized.
How big or widespread is fake news? According to polls, some fake news stories are believed by almost three-quarters of people. Again, the internet has meant that fake news can reach many more people than before, with the ease of sharing a link or a click of a finger.
Where fake news comes from
Often the fake news stories are written specifically to make a profit. They look and sound exactly like real journalism. The websites that host the stories online are ambiguously named to appear legitimate. They place plenty of sharing buttons to make sure the “news” spreads like wildfire on social media.
Why it’s hard to distinguish real from fake
Surely it’s easy to tell the real from the fake? Not that easy, it turns out. Many people cannot even distinguish an advertisement from an article. We are used to seeing outlandish true stories, especially since more of them are available online. An incredulous fake news story is much of the time very believable.
The fact that increasing numbers of people rely on the web to find their news makes it easier for those who make and spread fake news. At particularly sensitive political junctures, voters and would-be voters look to confirm their views and their biases. Facts are not necessarily a priority for them.