“Post-truth” became the Oxford Dictionaries “Word of the Year” in 2016, thanks to the U.S. presidential election. Barely a day goes by now without one being greeted by the words “fake” and “news” in some combination while reading newspapers or information online.
While misinformation is an age-old problem, the internet and digital technologies have turned it into a new threat to business, media, government and democratic societies. Communication professionals are facing unprecedented challenges in today’s information war. Fake news is deliberately used as a weapon to fabricate and distribute false information for ideological and/or financial gains. But is it “mission impossible” to combat ubiquitous fake news in our highly networked, social media-obsessed world?
Hard to define
It is difficult to define what exactly fake news is: Falsehoods? Misinformation? Hoaxes? Newfangled propaganda? Biased media reports? Malicious information from competitors? Or simply anything that one doesn’t like? As the director of FactCheck.org pointed out in an interview with Bloomberg News, many questionable stories are not entirely false, and have the kernels of truth even if they are misleadingly phrased. Someone can always find grey zones between facts and fictions, realities and perceptions, truths and “truthiness.”
Hard to stop
Multiple factors make it harder to contain fake news than before. Technologies have not only facilitated its proliferation, but algorithms tend to reward jokes, novelty, sensational commentaries, or anything leading to “shareability.” Supported by technologies, the fake news industry has emerged in a variety of ways, such as the surge of clickbait websites. The more people click a post, the more money those fake news sites earn.
On the other hand, traditional journalists are under time pressure to compete with new media, and are thus often forced to skip conventional information processing....
This content is available to IABC members only. To continue reading, log in below.