NATO ON FAKE NEWS AND POST-TRUTH
A report by the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence highlights the growing use of “fake news” in the era of “post-truth” politics.
Fake news has become a rallying cry of both the political left and right. The phrase rose to prominence as a favorite epithet of President Trump in his frequent denunciations of false and misleading news stories on CNN and in The New York Times about him and his administration.
Fake news is defined in the report as “the dissemination of false information via media channels (print, broadcast, online). This can be deliberate (disinformation), but can also be the result of an honest mistake or negligence (misinformation).”
The 129-page study, produced together with the King’s Center for Strategic Communications in London, defines the post-truth world as one where facts do not matter if they do not support someone’s opinions or ideas. The report warns that the combination of fake news and post-truth politics in public debate will undercut the influence of facts in determining national policies.
“What is at stake is the risk that only a limited set of information and evidence is considered in political discourse and policy development,” the report says.
The report argues that the massive proliferation of information and news outlets has made it much easier to lie through spreading misinformation as false news.
“Echo chambers and filter bubbles now dominate our social media newsfeeds through the use of sophisticated algorithms,” the report said. “The destructive effects of these filter bubbles can be seen in the political culture of the U.S. [presidential election] and the U.K. [Brexit vote] in 2016, while similar events can be seen to have occurred in Ukraine, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela and beyond.”
Russia remains a leader in information warfare and the use of fake news. “Russia’s goal, as seen from the West, is to deprive audiences of the ability to distinguish between truth and lies by creating as many competing narratives as possible in the global media space,” the report said.
The aftermath of the 2016 hack-and-release influence operation showed Moscow’s use of troll farms, state-controlled media like Sputnik and RT and GRU intelligence to steal documents and publicize them.
The Islamic State terrorist group “instrumentalizes the truth to suit its strategic objectives,” the report’s authors say, while North Korea is using its nuclear program along with its xenophobic nationalist propaganda to demonize and coerce the United States and Japan.
The report says it is unlikely Pyongyang will give up its nuclear arms or its anti-American posture.
“Abandoning nuclear weapons or the state’s confrontational anti-Americanism would contradict the state’s entire mythology: the absolute truth that acts as the state’s genesis,” the report says. “To do so would fundamentally undermine the credibility of the regime, uprooting the foundations for the version of the truth that it espouses, thus causing the regime to forfeit its legitimacy.”
Recommendations in the report for countering fake news include government legislation and legal regulations and greater news media fact-checking.
However, the report notes that China’s use of legislation to stop what the government regards as fake news has led to tighter controls on information and greater restrictions on freedom of expression.
For social media, a major platform for fake news, tech companies need to increase the use of editors and adopt crowdsourcing methods to identify and stop fake news and the use of technological or algorithmic solutions.
The problem of countering fake news is compounded by the prospect that repeating false stories in order to correct them can make the problem worse. In some cases, no response to fake news might be better than direct intervention.