From the moment I first read about the recent phenomena called ‘Fake News’ I have been thinking about why this is a thing. But first things first, what is ‘Fake News’? Wikipedia gives me the following definition:
News satire, also called fake news, is a type of parody presented in a format typical of mainstream journalism, and called a satire because of its content. Two slightly different types of news satire exist. One form uses satirical commentary and sketch comedy to comment on real-world news events, while the other presents wholly fictionalized news stories.
Weird, that’s not describing the things being called fake news these days at all… So I continued my search untill I found this definition:
Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.
Hey, that seems to fit the bill! This is the definition of ‘Propaganda’. So now that we know what we are actually talking about, let’s start digging a bit deeper.
Why has this phenomena surfaced (again) just recently? There were two big occasions recently where ‘fake news’ played quite a big role. Brexit and the presidential election in the United States. The problem is that both these events concerned very important decisions that will last way longer than today. And if ‘fake news’ played a big role in these decisions, that means that people made a very important decision based one “biased and misleading information”. I don’t know about you, but this is definitely not the way I want to make important decisions.
Over the past years we mostly had the traditional media as gatekeepers. But with more than half of the people in the US getting most of their news online, those gatekeepers influence is disappearing quickly. This leaves people exposed to unvetted information.
Why is this a problem?
And as many world leaders (and marketeers) already know, when you repeat something enough you will get to the people’s subconscious. Read some psychology books and you will also quickly learn that your subconscious doesn’t know the difference between true and false.
What about Facebook?
After the presidential election Mark Zuckerberg was accused that Facebook played a large role in the spreading of this ‘fake news’. To underatand the problem here, let’s first consider the fact how people get information on Facebook. People receive ‘news’ from the pages they like and the people they follow. When given the choice let’s assume people tend to follow pages they want to be associated with. Or they follow pages whom’s opinion they agree with.
Then you still have people on Facebook, your ‘friends’. They can’t possibly all have the same opinion, right? Indeed, they don’t. But this is where Facebook’s algorithm comes into play. This algorithm is responsible for everything you see in your Facebook news feed. The exact recipe is considered top secret, but after using Facebook for quite a few years now I’ve got some ideas on how this might work.
I think we can all agree that Facebook will show you more of the things you interacted with, the things you ‘like’. This means that when I liked your latest post I’m more likely to see your next post as well. By the way, this is also true for the posts by the pages you follow.
You are probably starting to feel where I am going with this. Many people (unconsciously) created their own little bubble on Facebook. They scroll through their Facebook feed and are shown all the stories Facebook thinks are interesting to them. Through their goal to show people posts that are most interesting to them Facebook basically gave people a biased view at the world. Whoops.
What are your thoughts?
While researching this topic I already talked with many people to listen to their opinion concerning this topic. I would also love to hear what you think! Where do you get your news? And do you conduct your own research on important news topics?