We have now entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution – “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres” (World Economic Forum, 2016). This is captured by Marshall McLuhan’s concept of the global village, where we are all interconnected through technological inventions that affect society as a whole. According to a global media agency, “half of the world’s population is now online, which is a testament to the speed with which digital connectivity is helping to improve people’s lives” (We are Social, 2017).
Digital technology such as Facebook has revolutionized how people produce and consume media. With a simple click, it enables us to alter information and have the ability to distribute it. Yet contrary to the positive hopes of wider connectivity, the spreading of fake news on social media has become a negative result of media globalization.
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Facebook, which is a primary source of news for some people, has come under fire for displaying the fake news. It came to prominence during the US Presidential Election, with unreliable news being shared widely all through the internet especially on social media and search engines. Since Donald Trump’s shock election victory, many have claimed that false news stories influenced voters.
The social networking site has been widely criticized after some users complained that they are reading fabricated news on the election. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook made a statement regarding the controversy. In a post on his own Facebook page, Zuckerberg admitted the business has a “greater responsibility” to the public than just being a tech company. He wrote:
“While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse – and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed.”
“With any changes we make, we must fight to give all people a voice and resist the path of becoming arbiters of truth ourselves. I believe we can build a more informed community and uphold these principles.”
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Facebook then is now trying to combat fake news. By updating its “trending” feature that highlights hot topics on the social networking site, part of its effort to root out the kind of fake news stories that critics contend helped Donald Trump become president.
The world’s largest social network said it would enable users to flag possibly false stories. The stories will then be passed to third-party fact-checkers and if found to be unreliable, will be marked in users’ news feeds as “disputed”. Readers will be able to alert Facebook to possible fake news stories, which the Facebook will then send to outside fact-checking organizations to verify.
If they confirm a story is fake, they notify Facebook through a special reporting website it exclusively built for them, and can include a link to a post debunking the article. Facebook will then show posts of those links lower in the News Feed. It will also attach a warning label noting “Disputed by [one or more of the fact checkers]” with a link to the debunking post on News Feed stories and in the status composer if users are about to share a dubious link, plus prohibit disputed stories from being turned into ads.
(Images from techcrunch.com)
The “fake news” news created further repercussions. Although the election is over in the US, the problem of fake news isn’t. Apple CEO Tim Cook said it’s time to do something about it.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph last Feb 12, 2017, Cook said that “all of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news… There has to be a massive campaign. We have to think through every demographic”
Cook believes that the proliferation of fake news is “killing people’s minds.” He even called for a wider action. “Too many of us are just in the complain category right now and haven’t figured out what to do,” he said.“We need the modern version of a public-service announcement campaign. It can be done quickly if there is a will.”
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Also, last January 15, 2017, the German government officials have expressed concern that the spread of fake news and the hacking of political campaigns could influence the country’s parliamentary election this year. Facebook rolls out fake-news filtering service to Germany, making Germany to become the first country outside the US to benefit from Facebook’s crackdown on fake news. Facebook said it had been in discussions with German media and publishing groups and was working to get more partners on board.
In an article written by Jay McGregor of Forbes.com on January 16, 2017, the Facebook’s fake news solution might not be effective. According to him, Facebook pages that spread fake news and the people that share it revel in being anti-establishment. If their posts are routinely flagged with ‘disputed’ then they’ll wear that as a badge of honour. Also, people will flag real news as fake news. Armies of believers who feel slighted by Facebook’s ‘intrusion’ will likely seek revenge by flagging mainstream media articles as fake news.
There’s also the people who steadfastly believe that established media outlets are little more than puppets of the government. That’s not entirely without merit but expect people with differing opinions to CNN to flag their content as fake. Indeed, fake news has the potential not only to destroy people’s reputations but also to damage the credibility of journalism itself.
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With the degree and reach of today’s media, both the producers and consumers of online information should be mindful of their capabilities. It has been argued that the globalization of media will result in the decentralization of power and permit more bottom-up control (Wang, 2008). Though greater responsibility is expected to those in power and greater authority, consumers must also be aware that change can be effected from the grassroots. To combat fake news, critical thinking is critical. All those who dwell in a loosely regulated digital space needs to apply critical thinking even more.
An information society requires mature readers or receivers of information, where core critical thinking skills like evaluation, interpretation and analysis must be put into practice. American journalist and literacy critic Christoper Hitchens teaches us about the role of the independent mind, that which “lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” Perhaps in a world made complex and puzzling by large-scale information and misinformation, it helps to educate ourselves not just by learning facts, but by training the mind to think and constantly rethink.