Fake News refers to incorrect information spread deliberately through various forms of news media, including print, broadcast, and social media that can be verified as false information. Fake news may be shared in the form of online or physical news articles that are constructed with the intent to mislead readers or articles from satirical sites which may be mistaken for actual news. They often times can have misleading or outlandish titles to bait readers in.  This term represents a fairly new development in the information age. Fake news differs from misinformation in intent, as misinformation is unintentionally incorrect whereas fake news is meant to cause social damage, be it to a large entity or a famous individual. The subject of fake news can be any person or thing. Historically, there have been many ethical issues involved in media platforms (i.e. yellow journalism, sloppy journalism, etc.), but the emergence of social media and the subsequent rise of modern fake news has ushered into a new era of ethical concerns. Due to the ubiquity of social media, any and every single user could be a journalist in some shape or form as they can tweet or share news they believe is true despite the unreliable source of fictitious information. Fake news is shared for a variety of reasons, ranging from discrediting a person or group of people to the potential monetary gain of a viral article. Given the publics capability of spreading this news, there are many ethical dilemmas that arise as a result.
- 1 Background
- 2 Avoiding Fake News
- 3 Ethical Concerns
- 4 See also
- 5 References
The earliest example of fake news can be traced back to a collection of six articles constructed by a reporter named Richard Adams Locke and released by the New York Sun in 1835. The six articles, known as the "Great moon hoax", released by the New York Sun claimed to have scientific evidence of man-like creatures on the moon. It was declared as a hoax by a rival newspaper named the Journal after Locke admitted to writing the story after hearing the Journal was in the works of reprinting the story.
The first set of popularized fake news articles in modern mass media stems from a small town named Veles, Macedonia. In a supposed get-rich-quick scheme, several companies in Veles paid teenagers to pump out falsified and sensationalized news articles to Facebook to gain advertising money. Thus a group of teenagers from Macedonia introduced fake news to the general U.S. public, writing many articles mainly centered around the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the exaggerated claims about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump attracted high traffic. Stories such as "Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump" and "FBI Agent in Clinton email case found dead" went viral instantly. The Macedonians demonstrated financial gain from spreading intentionally deceitful internet articles about popular figureheads is possible, and this made fake news articles a staple in the mass media which spread rapidly across the world.
Fake news became popularized in the United States of America around the U.S. presidential election from late 2016 - early 2017 when the U.S. presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, began to use it in speeches and social media posts. Since then, Donald Trump has used "fake news" in a more political setting, when aiming to discern the truth about his presidency and executive decisions.
There are many forms of fake news in modern mass media. Easily identifiable types include the following:
|Click Bait||Clickbait, also known as tabloid journalism, is defined as stories that intentionally use ridiculous headlines for economic gain and site views at the expense of truth and the actual content.Fake news stories and the falsified information within the clickbait are more likely to be spread because the media outlets promote these stories through social engagement which runs the risk of damaging journalistic integrity and public good. Examples of clickbait involve a famous person involved in an unthinkable act. For example, "Oprah exposed for lying to the world!"|
|Propaganda||Propaganda is the intentional creation of a collection of standard symbols with a biased perspective to achieve a certain value pattern within the population of choice. These symbols are indicators of certain attitudes expressed by the creators of the symbols which are valued or significant. |
|Satirical fake||Satirical fake news is the intentional creation of falsified news stories with a focus on entertainment and comedy. Satirical fake news capitalize on the use of "hyperbole, absurdity and obscenity" to evoke emotional reactions within the reader which have the ability to mislead readers without contextual connection or cultural backing to the source. |
|Sloppy Journalism||Sloppy Journalism occurs when the writer of an article or post uses unreliable sources containing fake news. They are at fault for not double-checking their sources.|
|Misleading Headlines||Misleading headlines are similar to Click bait but with more substance within the article.|
|Biased News Stories||Biased news stories are created to appeal to people's pre-existing beliefs. Unlike propaganda, these articles are written to gain attention not to shift beliefs.|
Social media provides a platform that allows people to spread false information because content is created by users. There is no overarching governing body checking facts, as most posts on social media are not fact-based anyway. Facebook and Twitter have received numerous complaints for not monitoring fake news on their sites. A study on Twitter showed that fake news stories were retweeted significantly more than real news, and it takes longer for real news to spread. This is because it has been proven that people are more likely to share new, surprising information, which could contribute to the extensive spread of fake news. On Facebook, people’s news feed are comprised of the most popular posts, those that receive the most “likes,” and posts that are exaggerated or fake news tend to get many likes. This feature increases the visibility of false information. Many people use social media as their only news source which leads to open access of consuming more rumors than factual news .
Using social media as a news source can be dangerous in obtaining false information because of the "echo chamber" effect. Based on what accounts a user follows and what types of posts they typically interact with (whether that is clicking on an outsourced link, reposting the content, or commenting on and liking the post) an algorithm deducts what content should primarily be displayed on the user's feed. For example, if an individual is politically conservative and behaves accordingly on social media, most of the posts they view will follow suit and feature conservative views. This only amplifies their beliefs further and aids in producing extremist thoughts and behaviors due to the polarized content of their feed. When the echo chamber factors into the sharing of fake news, the probability that the viewer will believe the false information increases if it reinforces their opinion, which is why so many social media users fall into the trap of sharing and believing fake news. In short, humans are not as likely to challenge their own beliefs, and if fake news concurs with what we feel, we are more likely to believe the fallacies than if we were reading about something that did not align with our beliefs.
Social Stereotyping and Misrepresentation
Another major element to consider within the realm of fake news in social media is the idea of there being misrepresentations and stereotyping of people and groups. Fake news may include promoting and encouraging things that are simply unreal, but it also includes other elements that are incomplete and overly generalized. For example, coupling Africans and primitivity, Asians and bad driving, Muslims and terrorism, or even women and overly emotional and weak behaviors constantly tip-toes around the notion of a single story. Chimamanda Adichie in her TED Talk called "The Dangers of a Single Story" emphasizes the fact that constantly portraying a people or group in a certain way forces them to become that way in the eyes of outsiders (Adichie, 2009). She says that in media, there are certain images of certain groups that have been on repeat for so long that there is now a wrongful association between the two. This, too, is fake news.
Chimamanda Adichie, perhaps, borrows this way of thinking from Binyanvanga Wainaina's How to Write About Africa where he sarcastically speaks of the right and wrong ways to write about Africa and Africans and how they are continuously depicted incorrectly or incompletely. Though much of his piece concerns names and scenery of Africa, his driving point is that Africa is so much more than sticks and stones and so much less than domesticated wild animal, arrows, and AK-47s (Wainaina, 2006). His sarcastic tone makes it known to the public that these misconceptions and misleading facts about Africa are what contributes to its treatment (and lack thereof). He says that making characters in books primarily consist of “naked warriors, loyal servants, and ancient wise men” forces the audience to assume that as factual (Wainaina, 2006). What is significant here is that many of the people in the audience can recall many stories and movies of these exact kinds of people. One is being showed the same images and stories but might see a completely different narrative upon traveling to that place. 
These socially assigned categories and stereotypical traits create an unreal image of people and places; which further contributes to global and cultural misunderstandings. Fake news is spitting out false information to an ignorant group of people, only to create confusion, misunderstandings, and social divide. Stereotyping, misrepresenting, and telling a 'single story' fits this same crime. 
Avoiding Fake News
Though it can often be difficult to tell real news apart from fake news (therefore rendering fake news nearly unavoidable), there are evaluation steps that can be taken in order to ensure that the information you are reading is accurate.
The CRAAP Test
The Meriam Library has provided the CRAAP test as a means for people to be more certain that the information they are reading is the truth. The test consists of
- Currency: Recognize when the entity you are reading is from. If it is not very recent or relevant to the time you are studying, it may no longer be applicable information.
- Relevance: Does the information you are reading relate to the topic you are trying to gain knowledge on?
- Authority: Where are you getting your information from? If you are acquiring crucial information from social media, this may not be as reliable as something from a more credible news source or a published study. It is important to pay attention to both the URL, and the author.
- Accuracy: Are there other claims to the same argument? Is the source peer-reviewed?
- Purpose: Why was the article written? Could there be an underlying purpose? Is the information being used to promote understanding of a topic, or is it being used as propaganda?
Don't Believe Everything You Read on the Internet
"Don't believe everything you read on the internet" is something we have all heard as our teachers and parents attempt to forewarn us of all the fake news out there as we begin to explore the internet. No one wants to build their knowledge based on research that resulted in misinformation. In order to combat the numerous fake news outlets and posts on the internet, Dan Gillmor gives tips that can allow humans to recognize when information is fake.
- "Be skeptical of absolutely everything"
- "Don't be equally skeptical of everything"
- "Go outside your personal comfort zone"
- "Ask more questions"
- "Understand and learn media techniques"
Several sites have been created in an effort to reduce the spread of Fake News and other false information through sites such as Snopes, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact. These sites often claim to be nonpartisan, fact-based, and transparent using various methodologies across different outlets to scrutinize widespread beliefs. Their ownership varies between independent publications, other media outlets, University scholars. Awards won by these sites include recognitions by Time magazine and the Pulitzer Prize. Although some dispute the accuracy and claims of non-bias on these sites, they're considered generally reputable with robust methods.
Accountability of Platforms
If a fake news story is spread around on Facebook, it is not necessarily Facebook's job to catch this inaccuracy and stop the circulation. Facebook was created for people to share their own ideas, and its algorithms are designed to encourage people to spend as much time as possible on the site. If this means that fake news stories are going to keep people on the site longer, and Facebook is not accountable for detecting fake news, then this cycle will never end. If platforms are not willing to hold users accountable for creating real content, then the social norms on the site are the only defense left to govern what is spread online.
At the same time, however, many people turn to social media sites as their only news source. Considering this, there should be some regulation on the behalf of social media sites for pushing real news to the forefront of the public's timeline. If fake news is more readily accessible than real news on social media sites, there are more opportunities for fake news to spread.
Accountability of Content Creators and Users
Eli Saslow interviews Christopher Blair in his article, Nothing on this page is real: How lies become truth in online America , creator of America’s Last Line of Defense, a since deleted political satire Facebook page. His extreme and unbelievable headlines, were believed and shared by many, despite the disclaimer on his website that "'Nothing on this page is real.'"
In order to avoid becoming victim to fake news on social media platforms, users must not hesitate to fact check a post or piece of writing they deem questionable. We simply cannot believe everything we see online and must take the responsibility of confirming the validity of the things we read on a daily basis. With such easy accessibility to produce and disseminate information online in today's society, the importance of users to scroll and read with caution has become paramount.
However, in Saslow's same article, he writes about 76 year old Shirley Chaplain, who does her rightful “slacktivism” duty of sharing content that she believes to be true. Platforms like Facebook, whether or not fake news is shared on them, create echo chambers. In an article from The Conversation, the author Megan Knight gives examples about Facebook's echo chambers and algorithms, writing that your Feed has "less and less content that you might disagree with or find distasteful." She mentions the UK leaving the European Union as an example and says that on Facebook, "people who liked or expressed support for leaving the EU were shown content that reflected this desire but in a more extreme way." Ms. Chaplain's online echo chamber made it easy for her to believe what is actually fake news.
Mental and Physical Damage
Fake news is defined as information that intends on deceiving its audience. Regardless of the aim of fake news, whether it be monetary or political gain, or any reason otherwise, this deceit is a problem that leads to further ethical concerns.
A notable example of one seeking personal entertainment through the reactions of others by writing fake news is shown in the case of Christopher Blair. Blair created his own satirical and politically right-winged Facebook page and titled it “America’s Last Line of Defense”. Blair published several articles a day, with each one making some ludicrous claim either promoting or demonizing a political figure.
While Blair’s Facebook page displays a warning that the posts are not actually real, this warning may go unnoticed to many readers. A majority of Blair’s audience demographic is comprised of adults and the elderly, and many of them struggle to distinguish between real and fake news online. Information literacy has changed drastically in the Digital Age, as those who had "grown up "before the exponential growth in the information accessible via the internet. Because of this, it can easily persuade them that most news reported are trustworthy due to its limited quality news sources and peer review. With the abundance of information online in the Digital Age and the relative ease of publishing content, information literacy is an important skill those of all ages should acquire. Blair is not the only individual publishing fake news online, and vast amounts of writers may write and publish satirical content for personal gain.
Serious damage can occur because readers believe in the information and will most likely share the "news,"encouraging their peers to agree with the information as well. This realization can be difficult for the reader, as Harry Frankfurt notes: "When someone is lied to by a person they trust, it causes them to look inwards on their own decision making to see who they can trust.". In other words, many people trust and believe that articles such as Blair's tell the truth, and when they're proven wrong, it can be difficult for them to believe any kind of news in the future.
Another prominent incidence of fake news inciting physical damage is that of false information on vaccination that is circulated mainly on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, which mostly come from accounts that are not verified as human, or in other words, bots. While 9 in 10 parents support vaccination of their children, the remaining refuse on false bases that have been debunked by research, such as how vaccinations weaken children's immune systems, or how vaccinations increase chances of getting autism. This phenomenon is one of the leading causes in the spike of the number of cases in measles outbreaks in the United States, as well as Britain, which has raised concern on a global scale.
Fake news can also lead to violent interactions in the real world. In 2016 the Pizza Gate scandal occurred. A man barged into a pizza shop in Washington D.C. with a rifle in order to free the child sex slaves that he believed were hidden in the basement. The man fired several shots in the ceiling. While thankfully, no one was hurt, this incident occurred because the man truly believed a fake news article. Incidents of mental and even physical damage have chances of occurring as long as the readers of fake news truly believe in what they're reading.
Proving a Point?Fake news articles seem to gravitate around celebrities, as stories pertaining to popular individuals will gain more attention than one about  For example, they had the fake Bieber sit on a park bench and eat a Chipotle burrito from the middle instead of the ends as most people do. The group sent the photos to news editors and posted them online. Within 48 hours, the picture was trending on Twitter, Reddit, and was featured on several news channels. The Yes Theory crew had achieved their goal of seeing if they could trick the world. The picture was taken with the intent to deceive but was done in a different sort of manner. The goal was to see if they could make something go viral. The extremity of the picture differs drastically from articles such as Blair's, a simple photo of a celebrity doing something weird as opposed to an article about a leading politician running a child-sex ring. However, reinforcing Frankfurt's point, lies can hurt people and it is possible that people will not be as willing to believe these kinds of posts when they see them next time. The news sites who reposted this photo may receive backlash due to their sloppy journalism. It is true that Justin Bieber is a celebrity but it does not allow people to falsify his identity.
Misuse of Power and its Consequences
Sometimes fake news can be implemented in order to achieve personal gain. The appeal of personal achievement can drive credible news personnel to stretch the truth and misuse their position of power. In February 2003, Brian Walski -former photographer for the LA Times- submitted a photo from the ongoing Iraq War that was later found to be an alteration of two images brought together. The image -pictured left- was briefly crowned as one of the most breathtaking photos from the war and would have expanded Walski's reputation as an accredited photographer, instead, the opposite occurred. When people found out about Walski's rouse, the photo's crown was lost as well as Walski's reputation. Professional journalists and photographers are kept to a high ethical code and when this code is broken, it can be difficult to undo the damage and re-enter the spotlight. Brian Williams, a former news anchor for NBC Nightly News, also spread fake news about the Iraq War in 2003. Back then, Williams was an on-the-scene reporter covering the early stages of the war. One day he was riding in a US military helicopter when Williams said the helicopter was shot at and was experiencing difficulty keeping altitude due to the shots from the ground. Williams circulated this story and it was believed to be true until February 2015. It was then revealed that Williams had lied about the bullets, fabricating a typical helicopter malfunction into gunshots. Williams was subsequently fired from NBC and has been unable to re-enter the realm of news anchoring since the revelation of his fake encounter. As noted with the teenagers in Veles, Macedonia, monetary incentives drive fake news articles more effectively than anything else. Brian Walski and Brian Williams fabricated fake news surrounding the Iraq War in order to sell their media content and gain popularity within the world of journalism. In the end, the strong ethical code discerning fake news ended the careers of Brian Walski, Brian Williams, and numerous other journalists.
Today, a good amount of people can identify fake news due to the lack of useful evidence. However, this era of fake news may evolve into a new form in the near future as technology continues to advance itself. It is debated if the software will be an option to enable users to create fake videos of people and potentially using that person's voice. Should this software be available? This would allow people the ability to create videos of celebrities executing odd or damaging things in order to sell the video to news sources. Thomas Kent argues this could even sway entire elections in the future if enough people believe the difficult-to-discredit videos. Careers could potentially be ruined and credible journalism could take a major "blow" as sites would no longer distinguish the authenticity of videos. This can lead to a lack of trust in the news. According to Kent, it's prevalent that one take action soon rather than later, in whatever form if possible. He suggests passing laws to discourage the creation of these videos before its a problem.
There is some progress being made in limiting fake news online. Facebook and WhatsApp are taking an interest in these issues. Facebook believes that false news has been harmful to the community as it decreases trust and people are less informed on the topic(s). Their main focuses are disrupting economic incentives, build new products to stop fake news, and help people become more informed.  Facebook is not alone as Whatsup as its changing its policies to better limit fake news. Previously, one could forward a message up to 256 conversations at once but now one can only forward a message to five different chat conversations at once to limit informing others.  It's safe to say that people were putting forth the effort until something better came along. They were simply just trying to do their part with the resources they had.
Some of these concerns may come to fruition sooner than experts believe. There already exists a very powerful fake text AI known as Deep Fake created by OpenAI. Deep Fake is a text-generating bot that runs on 1.5 billion parameters while retrieving sample text from 40 gigabytes of top Reddit posts. The text-bot then outputs text based around whatever is inputted into the model, responding with shockingly cohesive and comprehensible text. The OpenAI team quickly realized the potential of their creation to spread fake news across the internet at a whole new rate. They opted to keep the whole 1.5 billion parameter version to themselves and instead released a toned-down version of only 117 million parameters for users to play with. OpenAI has the ability to realize the true potential of the bot, known as GPT-2. They decided to not make a profit off their full version for the sake of internet safety and security. The released version, dubbed GPT-2 Junior, still contains several bugs, indicating the full version will most likely succeed. However, once the bugs are fixed, the junior version of the Deep Fake text bot could have the ability to spread fake news across every corner of the internet. The OpenAI team acknowledged that the bot could produce fake news anywhere from the Amazon review section to entire fake ebooks. The potential of bots such as GPT-2 is something to remain cautious on over the next few years as fake news increases in frequency and complexity.
The removal of fake news from internet platforms such as Google and Facebook can be seen a positive example of censorship. Censorship is the limitation of an expression . However, the danger of censorship is the restriction of freedom of speech. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are "offensive," happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. In March 2019, Russia outlawed the publication of fake news and publications which disrespected the state.  This gives the Russian government authority to censor speech that they dislike under the guise of fake news removal.
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