Fake news has concerned the globe since the emergence of modern media in the 1960s.
However, the spread of fake news over the last few years has multiplied during the crisis in Hungary and the 2016 US presidential election reaching a noticeable climax. In the face of a rapidly growing wave of malformation, the European Commission has begun to draft a law in order to contain and combat the phenomenon. Also, a powerful institutional framework is to be created in order to facilitate the imposition of harsh sanctions.
The Role of Social Media
Social media, especially liking pages or posts on Facebook and on Twitter, is a key source of fake news. As the information filters in such networks are considerably low, the diffusion of information that has not yet been cross-checked is ample and quick; thus, cases in which fake news have even baited established media outlets (and information that has been already duplicated) through social media are numerous. An example of global significance could be the apparent involvement of the Russian government in the Trump election. Through the creation of a fake news network, Russia was accused of transmitting fake news with audience-adjusted content to various websites. This lead to diametrically opposed readers.
The fact that an increasing number of people tend to outsource their information solely from social media allows the matter to take a larger dimension. According to EPRS (European Parliamentary Research Service) statistics, within the European Union member states, the percentage of people who search news or information only through social media has risen to 46% in 2016(while significantly higher in lower age demographics). This could allow us to draw conclusions about a whole new category of citizens; one that by abandoning traditional ways of accessing information has rendered itself more vulnerable to the threat of fake news.
Leftist and socialist Eurogroups within the European Parliament have taken a stance on the issue of fake news mainly by promoting initiatives and actions to educate citizens about the “correct” ways of keeping up to date. Furthermore, similar initiatives are supported by the French government and by progressive research centers. The first draft of a European Commission resolution is expected to come out soon, which will still need to be enacted by Parliament.
Digital Warfare and Political Power
In November 2017, the European Commission issued public deliberations on the matter of fake news and malformation. Commissioner Mariya Gabriel declared that fake news constitutes an “immediate threat to the very foundations of our democratic society”.
The issue of digital warfare in Russia and the collection of information frets the European officials . Issues that one could describe as censorship, pluralism in news provision, or questionable media reliability are, for instance, left aside.
The EU perspective is wrong not to focus on the aforementioned topics, in order to offer better protection from any propaganda. Another result of this one-sided approach is the formation of an action group “East StratCom” which operates within the framework of the European External Action Service (EEAS). Its main goal is to analyze data about the possible involvement of the Russian government in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.
The role of political power in the production and distribution of fake news is extremely worrisome. Populist rhetoric is only one piece of a puzzle that reinforces an anti-scientific movement and leading to the creation of “counterfeit” reality reports through malnformation.
On the other hand, it is also interesting to ask which political powers spread fake news. Research platforms like Pew Research and Citizens Momentum opt to answer this question both at a national and a global level. This approach that is currently based on empirical data, does not yet possess the right tools in order to produce scientific proof.