For my entire life I have grown up with our rapidly growing technology. I have seen and experienced first hand the changes that have been made to improve and refine the previously existing technology. I never really had to worry nor care about any harms that the massive growth in our technology could bring, and because of it I had never really thought about any of the cons that technology could possess, nor think that some of them were actually a realistic outcome.
Growth in technology from the year 1400-present day
For a long time, I never saw or realized technology had a bad side to it, I had never realized that while with all the good it brings, that it too could bring bad along with it. So when I began to do research on fake news and how prevalent it was in today's world, it made me think back to when I was younger and didn’t have a care in the world. It also made me realize how something I once thought was an almost impossible outcome, was now a reality. However, it didn’t end there.
As I continued to do my research, my eyes were opened to a whole new side of the internet that I had never truly seen, or even knew existed in this capacity. I began to see more articles containing completely and obviously fake information, at least by my standards it was obviously fake. But then I thought back to something that I had gone over in class only a couple of days earlier. We were reading an article from NPR called “Man Fires Rifle Inside D.C. Pizzeria, Cites Fictitious Conspiracy Theories”. In the article it spoke about a man who entered a D.C. pizzeria, armed with a weapon, and threatened the workers of the restaurant because he read a fake article online about how that restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, was the site of an international Satanic child abuse cabal that was hosted by democrats, including no other then... the democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. The article showed me how something that might seem obviously fake to me, might seem realistic to another. This was also the article that made me want to learn more about fake news and how it affects our society today.
Fake news article about the presidential election
While researching I decided to look at a specific area to better understand how fake news was spread. During that time, I found an article that described how many social media sites like Facebook were a big help in spreading fake news. According to the article “Facebook and the Digital Virus Called Fake News” the dissemination of fake news on Facebook reaches about 1.8 billion people globally. The article also states that deceptive internet content has contributed to ethnic violence in Myanmar, and has influenced elections in countries such as, Indonesia, the Philippines and many other countries. The fact that fake news has the power to start violence or even influence elections proves the point that it is a massive problem and needs to be taken seriously and stopped before it can create even more harm than it already has.
Actual fake news article posted on Facebook
According to the same article, in a time period of three months, the top twenty election related fake news stories on Facebook generated more engagement, meaning likes, shares, etc, than the top twenty election related news stories from real news websites. The fact that fake news was talked about and engaged with more on Facebook surprised me, at first, but then I decided to take a look for myself, and funny enough, right as I went on to Facebook, one of the first news related stories that popped up was a link to a fake news site trying to make people believe their own idea, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Seeing the massive spread of fake news on social media and the internet first hand really opened my eyes to the size of this issue.
Amount of engagement for real vs. fake election related articles from February-Election day
While continuing my research I came across an article posted by The New York Times called “As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth” according to the article, “[fake news] is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news.” Because of the fake news people are believing in it, and when they find out the truth they will doubt what is true because what they have previously read or been told goes against what they are now being told. Michael Lynch, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut describes the thinking of those people like this, “There’s no way for me to know what is objectively true, so we’ll stick to our guns and our own evidence. We’ll ignore the facts because nobody knows what’s really true anyway” (Lynch). Michael Lynch is giving the thinking of a large majority of the people who give in and believe in fake news. He is saying how the person may not actually completely believe in what they are being told, but may think that, if it’s not proven fake, how will I know what’s real and what’s fake? This type of thinking creates a large deal of confusion in people and prevents some from acknowledging the truth. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 88% of the people surveyed said that a made up news story created at least some confusion about a current event, showing how much of a problem fake news is creating. While fake news can bring up confusion and distort the way people think of certain things, it raises the question of censorship and how much, if any, should be censored.
Survey from the Pew Research Center
On the internet in our world today, while being a very helpful tool, it can also be used as a very dangerous weapon. For example while it can be used as a way for people to quickly and conveniently get daily and current news, it can also be used as a place for people to try and push their own conspiracies and theories or ideas towards anyone that is willing to believe them. Those people who buy into what they are being told, now believe something that is completely false and could even end up doing something potentially dangerous because of what they are reading. This is where censorship comes into play. Censorship would allow the parts of the internet that have fake news on them to be removed, or at least partially removed, and would remove a large part of the confusion and possible danger that fake news brings. However, censorship itself raises another question of how much censorship is necessary and appropriate.
Different countries views on internet censorship
While researching, I read the book 1984 by George Orwell. In the book the government controls everything that the public sees and changes what it is that they see so that it promotes and supports the government. The government does not allow free thought, nor does it allow people to freely express themselves. They are confined to only the things that the government wants them to know and do. It is not just censorship though, in people's homes there are telescreens, which are always on and are constantly playing propaganda, but they are also used by the thought police to monitor the citizens in their homes to prevent any sort of rebellion against the government. The government goes as far as rewriting history in order to display the past the way they want to show it, “‘Who controls the past,’ ran the party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’” (Orwell 34). The slogan is basically saying that, because the party is in power in the present they are able to control the past, which they do by altering and rewriting history so that it matches what they want, and with controlling the past they are able to control the future, which they do by censoring the things that go against them and getting rid of any people or information that could hurt them. In the book the idea of censorship is almost on the opposite extreme that our internet is in today’s world. On the one hand you have our internet, which almost anyone with access to it can post almost anything that they see fit, and on the other hand you have a government that censors everything, no matter how big or small, that goes against them or could possibly hurt them in any way.
For such a large part of my life, I have seen the massive advances we have made in technology and never thought twice about them. I have always been told that technology was great, that newer and fancier technology was better than the old. But after truly being able to learn more about one of the harmful things that technology brings, it has really opened my eyes to the many harms that it can produce/motivate, with only one of the many examples being fake news. The research I’ve done has shown me completely new things that I would have never thought possible when I was younger. I would’ve never thought that fake news stories would be as popular as they are in our society today. I would’ve never thought that elections in many countries would be or even could be affected by fake news stories. I would’ve never thought that fake news stories would be able to overtake real news stories and become more popular. I would’ve never thought that people would be able to believe in these kinds of stories. Nor would I believe that people would begin to ignore the truth after reading fake news stories. While I learned so much about the harms of fake news on our society, I think that the most important thing that I learned overall, is that fake news will never go away without everyone's help/cooperation. It is up to us to get rid of these fake and extremely harmful stories.
Trust in media to release fair and accurate information from 1997-2016