In­for­ma­tion over­load fu­els fake news

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Technology -

FAKE news has be­come a trou­bling phe­nom­e­non, al­legedly used to ma­nip­u­late vot­ers and fuel a rise in global pop­ulism. In one case, it in­spired a man to shoot up a Wash­ing­ton pizze­ria.

Sci­en­tists re­vealed some of the rea­sons for the ex­plo­sion in hoaxes and lies on so­cial me­dia – an in­for­ma­tion over­load has left con­sumers un­able to dis­cern the good from the bad.

“Our re­sults show for the first time that low- and high-qual­ity in­for­ma­tion have the same chances to suc­ceed,” said study co-au­thor Diego Oliveira of In­di­ana Univer­sity’s School of In­for­mat­ics and Com­put­ing.

“And such a lack of dis­crim­i­na­tion is a re­sult of our lim­ited at­ten­tion and the amount of in­for­ma­tion (to which) we are ex­posed.”

Hoaxes and fake news, the team found, are just as likely to go vi­ral as well-sourced, ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion. The way it is con­structed, the “so­cial me­dia mar­ket rarely al­lows the best in­for­ma­tion to win the pop­u­lar­ity con­test”, said Oliveira.

In 2013, the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum listed the threat of dig­i­tal mis­in­for­ma­tion “wild­fires” as a top risk for our so­ci­ety.

One form is “fake news” – a term used for false­hoods, pre­sented as truth, that are spread via tra­di­tional news chan­nels or on­line so­cial me­dia to in­flu­ence peo­ple or at­tract clients.

Such mis­in­for­ma­tion is sus­pected of hav­ing been used to try and in­flu­ence the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. “Fake news” re­ports of a child-smug­gling ring with con­nec­tions to Hil­lary Clin­ton op­er­at­ing out of a Wash­ing­ton pizze­ria, saw a man storm the eatery last De­cem­ber fir­ing an as­sault ri­fle.

Ban the bots

The au­thors of the new study sug­gested cut­ting back on “bots” – al­go­rithms with fake “pro­files” on so­cial me­dia net­works. They flood the plat­form with mes­sages on a cer­tain topic in a bid to marginalise other view­points.

Such bot ac­counts “make up a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of on­line pro­files and many of them flood so­cial me­dia with high vol­umes of low-qual­ity in­for­ma­tion to ma­nip­u­late the pub­lic dis­course”, said the re­search team.

By ag­gres­sively curb­ing this kind of abuse, so­cial me­dia plat­forms could im­prove the over­all qual­ity of in­for­ma­tion to which we are ex­posed.

But con­sumers can do some­thing too: source your news well.

“Us­ing so­cial me­dia as a source of news is not very reli­able un­less one fo­cuses only on posts from trusted me­dia sources that fol­low es­tab­lished jour­nal­is­tic prac­tices,” said Oliveira.

“Our friends are prob­a­bly not good edi­tors and are driven by emo­tions and bi­ases more than ob­jec­tiv­ity and trust­wor­thi­ness.

“We should not as­sume that if some­thing is shared by a so­cial con­tact it is reli­able, and we should avoid shar­ing some­thing with­out read­ing it crit­i­cally.”

The study into what the team called “the dig­i­tal mis­in­for­ma­tion that threat­ens our democ­racy” was pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Hu­man Be­hav­iour .It fol­lowed the spread of thou­sands of memes on plat­forms like Twit­ter, Tum­blr and Face­book.

The term fake news is also used by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his fol­low­ers to de­scribe re­ports in tra­di­tional me­dia that they do not agree with, fur­ther mud­dy­ing the waters.


Hoaxes and fake news are just as likely to go vi­ral as well-sourced, ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers.

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