Posted: November 8th, 2023
Fake News Report
Fake News Report
‘Fake news’ became a popular maxim for disinformation and misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Since then, numerous behavioural studies have highlighted how the spread of fake news affects society, culture and politics. Scholars continue to dig into the topic, shedding light on its complexity, and advocating for more pronounced conceptualizations of the phenomenon. Nonetheless, research on human factors behind fake news indicates the problem is still in its early stages. While fake news does not spread deeply or broadly compared to real information, its political salience makes it exceptionally infectious. A recent example is a series of phoney screenshots depicting CNN news coverage of the war in Ukraine. Despite the fakes being technically weak, several prominent figures shared the misinformation, causing substantial problems in international relations. While the growth in digital consumption is inevitable, a range of strategies for promoting digital literacy has to be established, including professional journalism, enhancing public awareness and negating the financial incentives for fake news.
The Context of the Fake Story
The false story takes place in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war and involves three phoney images masked as actual CNN coverage. The first fake photo includes an image of Steven Seagal inside Ukraine in military gear. The caption under the false picture read that intelligence agencies across the globe confirm Seagal is among the Russian army positioned on the outskirts of Kyiv (Dale, 2022). The post was shared and subsequently deleted by Joe Rogan, a well-known podcaster. The photo was fake because CNN never reported such a development. Moreover, the image of Seagal in a military uniform was from one of his movies. There was no fact or indication that the movie star was engaged in the conflict.
The second fake news was a text posted by hoax Twitter accounts believed to be affiliated with CNN. The post falsely claimed an American citizen had been killed in Ukraine. According to the misinformation, Bernie Gores was the first American casualty of the war after being killed by a mine hidden by Russia-backed separatists (Dale, 2022). The tweet led to massive criticism and mockery of CNN. Russia’s representative at the United Nations attacked mainstream media for sharing the tweet without fact-checking the accounts (Dale, 2022). Most people did not know the information was false until Twitter suspended the two accounts behind the posts.
The final fake image was an altered screenshot with a false message concerning India’s position concerning the war in Ukraine. The caption explicitly warned India not to interfere in the conflict unless they were ready for the consequences (Dale, 2022). The image was digitally altered because a person can observe how the fabricated sentence is inserted unprofessionally into an actual picture of a CNN television program. Moreover, the new caption had poor grammar and formatting. Another sign that the image was altered was the inclusion of a textbox at the bottom of the screen highlighting Pleitgen was in support of President Donald Trump’s impeachment (Dale, 2022). The Ukraine war is taking place in 2022, and Trump has faced no impeachment hearings since he left the presidential office.
The three doctored images leverage an existing conflict to cause increased political tension between the east and west. Khan et al. (2021) state that fabricated content mimics the organization of news media but not the intent or process of reporting. The objective is almost always disruptive, given the ability of fake news to propagate conspiracies. For instance, the fake news on Steven Seagal was created for political purposes by individuals who wish to positively support Russia’s actions while undermining governments’ efforts against the war. The Michigan born movie star was recently granted Russian citizenship and is cited as a close friend of President Vladimir Putin. Given the United States is against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the thought of an American citizen aiding Russian forces was bound to undermine U.S.A ’s political ideology. Therefore, it can be said the first fake photo follows an ideological purpose. Such a development would be beneficial to parties affiliated with Russia.
The other two images intend to create fear and panic among the citizenry to dissuade opposing governments from acting against Russia. Salvi et al. (2021) carried out a metadata analysis of scientific reports on news and cognitive function to find that fake news can lead to socio-cognitive polarization. In times of uncertainty, misinformation compromises collective action resulting in civil unrest (Salvi et al. 2021). For instance, the American public is less likely to support military action in Ukraine if they receive information that citizens are dying there from landmines. Fear positively correlates with the consumption of misinformation (Salvi et al. 2021). The finding suggests fear contributes to the development of a situation where the public is forced toward accepting pseudo-existential beliefs. In such a scenario, Russia appears mightier than it is, dissuading Americans or Indians from interfering in the war.
How Fake News Spreads
Technological advancements in social media are the primary contributors to the spread of fake news. Research indicates that while fake news does not travel deeper than real news, it travels faster online (Kim et al. 2021). The regular use of social media is to blame for the growth in misinformation. People like, share and engage with pages containing false information with little verification. All three phoney images covering the Ukraine war were disseminated via social media. Fake news can also be spread through online bots, which are computer algorithms that create content and employ user interactions to emulate human behaviour (Kim et al. 2021). The challenge with bots is that they can create the impression that particular pieces of information are accurate.
Another reason for the spread of fake news is circular reporting. When a prominent source publishes misinformation, other news outlets and social media users will cite the information as evidence (Kim et al. 2021). In the phoney images of the Ukraine war, a significant portion of the public outcry came from fans and followers of Joe Rogan. Instead of verifying the information is accurate, users base their judgment on the original source. The cycle continues until one part of the chain reports the misinformation.
Human factors also contribute to the spread of fake news. People fall victim to misinformation due to a lack of deliberation over the credibility of sources and accuracy of the information (Pennycook et al. 2018). People consume misinformation online because they are too quick scrolling through the timelines. Repeated exposure to fake news makes a person more likely to consider a false statement true (Pennycook et al. 2018). The gap may be so because the user recognizes the information but does not recall the source or context. The final human factor is novelty. In most cases, false news is novel compared to real news, increasing its ability to stir strong emotions. Therefore, fake news has a greater ability to grab attention, encouraging further sharing.
Strategies for Addressing Fake News
Finding ways to enhance news literacy is the single most effective approach to curbing the spread of misinformation. Research outlines that it is difficult for people to distinguish false from true news, especially novice users (George et al. 2021). Educational institutions should teach how to evaluate news sources, including source, date of publication and context, for users not to accept information at face value. Education also entails creating awareness of third party assessments (George et al. 2021). There are certain websites and tools that users can use to fact-check news. Examples include the digital polarization initiative, Snopes, verification handbook and politfact. Users can also be taught how to verify images using online tools, such as Fotoforensics, google reverse image search and wikimapia. Governments and non-profits should invest in promoting digital literacy to curb the growing wave of misinformation.
The public can also safeguard itself from false news by adopting a sceptical attitude. Pennycook et al. (2018) argue that social media posts should never be shared without fact-checking. Social media users should assume people are imperfect, and what they share could contain mistakes. Scepticism also involves deliberating the context of a post to discover the underlying agenda. Writers often colour their narratives with personal agendas (Pennycook et al. 2018). Following a diverse group of individuals with different perspectives is one way to avoid narratives with agendas. Relying on a few handles to acquire news increases the probability of consuming misinformation. When it comes to large media organizations, it is advisable to assess whether any political affiliations target particular consumer segments (George et al. 2021). News houses often tailor their news to different consumer segments, enabling them to skew information. The final individual level strategy is not to downplay any narratives that play on your emotions.
Unfortunately, the considerable influx of innovative communication platforms has ushered in the age of misinformation. Fake news is increasingly influencing how individuals and society interpret daily developments. Misinformation is quite complex, coming from different sources with different intentions. Moreover, there are numerous informal communication platforms that people can use to share fake news. Learned is falsified information leverages human behaviour to gain traction. As seen with the 2016 presidential elections, the coronavirus pandemic and now the Ukraine-Russia war, fake news is undermining the advantages of digital media. As a result, it is time governments, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions engage in enhancing digital literacy to maintain an open and democratic information system. Technological firms should continue innovating tools that facilitate the identification of fake news. Overall, every individual has the responsibility to curb the spread of fake news.
Dale, D. (2022, March 6). Fact check: Phony images masquerading as CNN coverage go viral amid war in Ukraine. CNN Politics, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/05/politics/fact-check-fake-cnn-ukraine/index.html
Khan, A., Brohman, K., & Addas, S. (2021). The anatomy of ‘fake news’: Studying false messages as digital objects. Journal of Information Technology. https://doi.org/10.1177/02683962211037693
Salvi, C., Ianello, P., Cancer, A., McClay, M., Rago, S. & Antonietti, A. (2021). Going viral: How fear, socio-cognitive polarization and problem-solving influence fake news detection and proliferation during COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Communication, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcomm.2020.562588/full
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