Fake news is certainly a hot topic at the moment, and there have been numerous attempts to both understand it better, and figure out ways to stop it. For instance, I wrote recently about research exploring the role humans, as opposed to bots, play in the spread of fake news.
A recent paper, published in Science, calls for a thorough investigation into the various psychological, technological and social forces that underpin fake news.
“What we want to convey most is that fake news is a real problem, it’s a tough problem, and it’s a problem that requires serious research to solve,” the authors say.
The authors estimate that there are rather shocking numbers of bots present on social media, with 60 million bot accounts on Facebook, and 48 million on Twitter. It went on to suggest that the average American encountered up to three fake news stories in the final month before the 2016 election.
“The spreaders of fake news are using increasingly sophisticated methods,” the authors say. “If we don’t have enough quantifiable information about the problem, we’ll never be able to design interventions that work. This paper is really a call to groups across the globe—academics, journalists, and private industry—to work together to attack this problem.”
The intended consortium includes the tech platforms that have become such pervayors of all we consume. Their involvement is something the authors believe they are socially and ethically bound to.
Whilst fake news in the political sphere has gained most attention, it also influences many other fields, including public health and the stock market. What’s more, it can be especially difficult to counter, as research suggests that correcting a lie can simply ingrain the false information instead.
Handling the truth
The study I highlighted at the start of this post put the onus very much on us to identify fake news from reliable news and stop spreading the fake stuff. It’s a solution this paper argues could be supported by more effort given to educating young people on how to recognize illegitimate news sources. Even this will have to part of a much wider effort that is also likely to include more work done by the social networks to identify fake news sources and stop them propagating.
“The challenge is there are so many vulnerabilities we don’t yet understand and so many different pieces that can break or be gamed or manipulated when it comes to fake news,” they say. “It’s such a complex problem that it must be attacked from every angle.”
It’s likely to be a battle that will rumble on for some time yet, but it does at least appear to be attracting a degree of attention. Time will tell how successful these efforts prove to be.