November 16, 2017
In the digital age, with the rise of social media platforms, information has become prolific. News and reports are accessible in one click. The challenge for media and communication will be the attention of users. Fake news and disinformation are impacting political campaigns, social media and communication, as well as people’s daily lives and the way we are reading news and reports. A multi-level conference on fake news was organised on November 13th and 14th hosted by DG CONNECT. The European Commission rolled out on this occasion a public consultation on fake news and online disinformation and set up a High-Level Expert Group representing academics, online platforms, news media and civil society organisations. The outcomes of the conference were stunning. Fake news go viral because they appeal to emotions, anger, indignation on the contrary of true, fact-checked information. Fake news do not operate in a vacuum: they also act on fears and anger.
This is why several media and companies propose tools to fact-check information, improve media literacy and work across media to counter false information. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner responsible for Digital Economy and Society, stated in her introductory speech: “At the heart of my action lies the defense of citizens’ right to quality information which is a cornerstone of our democracies. I want to have an open and broad discussion about fake news to address this complex phenomenon in order to overcome the challenges ahead of us. “
Fake news look like manipulation, distortion of reality, false statements, and misleading facts. They can be in some cases made out from scratch to create disruption and instability. Indeed wrong information may lead to wrong research or wrong studies, and in the end wrong decisions. False statements/facts are widespread by series of bots and amplifiers beyond control and regulation. As impact, they raise doubts about institutions, collective memories, history, and facts. But above all, they may endanger stability, institutions, security. “The fight against Fake news is a bit like a cat and mice hunt: the regulators are the cats but there are plenty of mice around there,” said expert M.L. Neudert from Oxford University during the conference. Users may have got used to the spread of fake news, and as a result, they sometimes do not know what to believe. It makes it increasingly necessary to counter fake news and to create room for cooperation between stakeholders including the regulators, education systems, and social platforms. Among others, it seems important that publishers and platforms recognize responsibility for the content. Tools need to be created to counter false news which travel faster and faster. This may also mean to invest in more resources and staff to strengthen quality journalism.
The Edelman Trust Barometer highlights that trust in all four institutions: business, government, NGOs, and media has declined broadly in 2017 to a point never noticed since decades. We could see a clear link between the invasion of fake news, the proliferation of information and growing distrust, while distrust and discontent are fueling rumors. Do people believe fake news because they do not trust the system, or do fake news lead to increasing distrust? It will be hard to know who came first the chicken or the egg.