It seems like ‘fake news’ is everywhere these days. Before November 2016, it was a little-used phrase most often applied to satirical shows and websites such as The Daily Show or The Onion. Since the election of Donald Trump, however, the number of Google searches for the term ‘fake news’ has gone through the roof.
Most recently, so-called ‘fake news’ planted by Russian hackers has been blamed on the rapidly-escalating crisis in the Gulf. It’s become the favourite catchphrase of politicians when confronted with stories they don’t like. Some commentators believe the term has effectively been ‘hijacked’ and is now essentially ‘meaningless’.
Whatever we call it, the phenomenon of fake news undoubtedly exists. And it’s not just harmless pranksterism, as employees of a Washington D.C. pizzeria discovered in 2016 when a gunman burst into the restaurant because he believed online stories about a child sex ring being run there by Democratic politicians. Luckily, nobody was injured.
What is fake news? We had a comment from Petr, who pointed out that fake news often seems to include any opinion that people disagree with. Is he right? What does ‘fake news’ actually mean?
To get a reaction, we put Petr’s comment to Claire Wardle, Strategy and Research Director at First Draft News, a nonprofit organisation that works to raise awareness and address challenges relating to trust and truth in the digital age. What would she say? Is ‘fake news’ just news you don’t agree with?
We also had a comment from Milo (no, not that Milo) who argues that fake news (or whatever we call it) seems to spread faster than people can ‘fact check’ it. He points out that a person can easily create dozens of website referencing one another, each churning out fake news stories.
How can we fight disinformation if it spreads faster than it can be rebuffed?
Finally, we had a comment from Shreya, who wonders why people are so bad at spotting fake news. We put that question to Claire Wardle for her reaction:
Is ‘fake news’ just news you don’t agree with? What’s the best way to fight fake news? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!