In the digital age, social media has become an important platform for information dissemination. According to statistics, more than two-thirds of the world’s Internet users use social media daily, which means that there is a huge flow of information on these platforms (Domenico and others, 2020). However, this also presents many opportunities for issues such as the creation and dissemination of fake news. Fake news has become a global challenge that deeply affects public decisions and perceptions. This paper will explore the reasons behind the emergence of fake news, centering on the critical role of media literacy, the cognitive biases that exacerbate the fake news crisis, and the impact it has on the public.
What is Fake news?
With the 2016 U.S. presidential election on the horizon, the term “fake news” entered the public consciousness. The message with widespread dissemination of information produced in a misleading and unsubstantiated manner through social media channels is widely called “fake news” (Domenico and others,2021). Fake news usually spreads quickly and easily gains traction on social media because the algorithms of these platforms tend to reward content that evokes a strong emotional response. Also, based on the 2016 election events in the United States, some critics argue that political forces may deliberately disseminate fake news to achieve their goals. This intentional misinformation of the public may lead voters to make decisions based on misinformation, thus affecting the entire political process. They can mislead the public, influence the democratic process, incite social unrest, and even lead to real-world violence.
‘2016 U.S. presidential election party, Riga, Latvia’ by Janitors is licensed under CC BY.
Social media and fake news
Social media has become a hotbed for the rapid spread of fake news. In contrast to traditional news outlets, publishers on social media are often not subject to rigorous fact-checking, thus making false or misleading information more prevalent. It provides an effective platform for the dissemination of fake news in some way. It has been reported that online fake news spreads six times faster than accurate content, with 70% of users unable to distinguish real content due to the novelty of the latter (Aïmeur et al., 2023). Studies have shown that fake news spreads even faster than real news on social media, possibly because it is more entertaining, compelling or up-to-date (Campan and others, 2017). This suggests that the public’s attention is more likely to be drawn to novel fake news headlines than to accurate information. They often spread far faster and wider on social media than real and reliable news. This “ethic of instantaneous communication” emphasizes the importance of speed and range in the dissemination of information.
The algorithmic design of social media platforms also inadvertently facilitates the spread of fake news. Gillespie (2018) use to discusses the role of algorithms and how they influence the display of content in his book. He emphasizes that the sheer size of social media platforms, which makes a manual review of each piece of content overwhelming, also leads to the reliance on algorithms by these social platforms. For example, some content may be recommended because it has a higher click-through rate or generates more user interaction, whereas fake news is often more likely to generate such interaction due to its dramatic and controversial nature. Algorithms tend to favor content that elicits strong emotions, and fake news, in some ways, is just right for that. So, from a communication perspective, algorithmically driven “emotion-driven communication” strategies make it easier for fake news to spread and be accepted.
Shared Responsibility and the Role of Social Media in the Fight Against Fake News.
Nonetheless, there is a segment of the population that believes that the responsibility for the creation and spread of fake news should not be placed solely on social media. Some social media companies insist that they exist only as intermediaries of information and that it is not their job to judge the authenticity of content. Twitter and Facebook, for example, have said that their platforms merely provide a space for public discourse and should not censor the content posted by users. In the United States, the enactment of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) has given websites a degree of immunity from legal liability for user-generated content.
While the dispersal capabilities of social platforms or the involvement of political forces play several roles in the spread of fake news, the responsibility is somehow shared, and the prevalence of news is multifactorial. It is also the responsibility of the public to strengthen their media literacy to learn to recognize real and fake news. It involves not only the platforms themselves but also content creators, users, advertisers, governments, and other stakeholders (Gillespie, 2018). It follows that citizens have a responsibility to strengthen their media literacy and that a combination of individual actions can have a significant impact on fake news.However, some believe that placing the blame for media literacy squarely on the individual somehow oversimplifies the issue. It assumes that every user has equal access to resources, education, and time to discern truth from fiction. In fact, the complexity of digital algorithms, the speed at which information travels, and the sophisticated tactics employed by purveyors of fake news make it increasingly more work for the average person to distinguish fact from fiction.
While many arguments emphasize the shared responsibility to address the fake news dilemma and social media companies’ claims that they are neutral, some critics argue that from an objective point of view, the algorithms and stream measurement developed by social media platforms still have an impact on the spread of fake news. And the complexity of digital algorithms, the speed at which information is disseminated, and the sophisticated tactics employed by purveyors of fake news have made it increasingly difficult for ordinary people to distinguish fact from fiction (Domenico and others, 2021). While platforms such as Twitter and Facebook insist that they are simply spaces for public discourse, they cannot be completely absolved of responsibility. These platforms benefit greatly from user participation anyway. It would be naïve to assume that these platforms are passive participants in the information ecosystem. So, leaving aside the question of intervening in freedom of expression, even for the sake of the platforms’ functioning and reputation, content auditing plays a crucial role on social media and online platforms. Not only does it safeguard the platform’s reputation, but to some extent, it also prevents the spread of misinformation and disinformation so that the platform does not degenerate into a tool for the spread of fake news. This is crucial in maintaining public trust and social stability (Gillespie, 2018). So, while encouraging the public to become more media literate, it is equally important for these platforms to recognize their influence and take proactive measures to reduce the spread of misinformation.
In conclusion, the rise and rapid spread of fake news in the digital age poses multifaceted challenges that often require collective action by society. While the architecture and algorithms of social media platforms undoubtedly play a role in amplifying misinformation, the responsibility cannot rest solely with these platforms. All stakeholders, from individual users to content creators, governments, and advertisers, have a role to play in mitigating the spread and impact of fake news. At the centre of this effort is improving the media literacy of the public so that they can navigate the digital information landscape with sensitivity. Reducing and ending the spread of fake news often requires a combination of multiple social forces working together. Platforms, as guardians of digital discourse, also have the responsibility and need to critically assess their systems and policies and recognize their power and influence in shaping public opinion.
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