Fake news – More real than ever before

As the digital world expands to increasingly encompass all parts of the world, it is inevitably becoming a tool of foreign policy and warfare. The internet – particularly social media – has added another dimension in international relations with unique domestic repercussions. It has affected the way people understand reality, and is subconsciously altering perceptions.

By GDJ [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

While the affect of internet and fake news on various facets of social life is complex, there are two essential domains in which its consequences stand out – Political and Economic sphere.

The political implications of Internet and fake news are a lot more tangible and accessible; they can be observed in the form the internet has changed the way governments and citizens interact with each other and among themselves. An example of the political repercussions of fake news is its ability to influence electoral outcome. In this regard, the United States is not an isolated example; countries like Germany, France, India, and so on have also faced polarization of elections through disinformation campaign. As per a study, done by the Oxford University, during the US 2016 elections the share of fake news spread was equal to the share of real news. By spreading fake news, not only are voters not able to make comprehensive choices while electing their representative, it has also lead to increasing hate speech. With free and fair elections being a pillar of democracy, the threat fake new brings to its accuracy is alarming.

Beyond elections, the fake news is also influencing politics via foreign policy, Russia has been systematically been using fake news to put forth its agenda and manipulating its relations with other countries by altering perspectives of its citizens and therefore redefining its terms of relations with other countries. This has particularly impacted European and ex-USSR countries, which have suffered to rising disinformation campaigns initiated by the Kremlin.

The foul play of fake news in the political sphere leads us to its consequence in the economic sphere, by creating an online atmosphere marked by the lack of trust under the cover of anonymity; fake news acts as an obstacle in the development of the economic sphere and thereby hampering and altering its development. Therefore, the role of internet is not in context of the problems it has created but rather the underutilisation of the potential that exists. Here the European Union is an interesting example, which although has been largely successful in removing trade barriers with EU and creating an integrated market, is still struggling to create a Digital Single Market. While the immediate task is to set up the required infrastructure to support the digital market, the on going negotiations on the terms of the market show the complexity of forming the legal framework in terms of deciding in the degree of privacy, ensuring secure transactions, etc. A long-term objective needs to be build trust of people in the digital market – within the European Union only 38% of people are confident in buying online from another EU country.

Realizing this lack of a healthy online economic community in Europe, on 10th March 2018, European Parliaments Committee on Internal Markets and Consumer Protection (IMCO) held its15th meeting of the Working Group on the Digital Single Market to deliberate on the role of fake news. They linked the success of the Digital Single Market with building trust of people in the online community and counter disinformation campaigns through this process..

As a means to solve the dilemma of the political sphere and nurture the economic spheres, legislative action and policy formulation is an important aspect. In the case of European Union in particular and other countries in general, here the government has to balance the fine line between surveillance and monitoring while ensuring malpractices like geo-blocking are not carried out. Considering the increased level of interaction via the internet, laws need to be updated to ensure its healthy use and protect people from disinformation and security breaches. Initiatives to spread media and information literacy along with successful e-Governance can help create an e-Society boosting economic growth and employment by creating alternative businesses in an integrated digital market.

Along with the government, the social media sites, which are the largest enables of fake news – accounting to almost 40% – need to be transformed as platforms of creating informed citizenship and connected individuals. Facebook amongst other social media sites stands out as a major enabler of Fake news. Between the periods of October to November 2016 (during the US Elections) the average ‘Pizzagate’ shares of Facebook were 1430, compared to 26 by Google+, and 132 by Twitter.

To prevent spread of fake news on social media, these sites need to be regulated; to efficiently monitor content while also ensuing freedom of speech and expression. Mechanisms of fact checking should be boosted to prevent disinformation campaigns and warn users. With social media, even the information they gather about their users needs to be secured to protect their privacy and prevent misuse. By controlling the authors, publishers, platforms and amplifiers of fake news we can limit its reach to the readers. To ensure safe use of technology, technological programs and platforms need to be developed to best counter fake news and ensure security.

There is no denying the rising role of internet and media and their capacity to shape public opinions. With increasing technological advancements, new challenges in terms of Artificial Intelligence will continue to crop up. Therefore to create sustainable societies that thrive on the healthy use of technology it is important to analyse their potential and regulate it in a productive manner to ensure its best possible use. By taking corrective measures, and remedial measure where needed, we can harness the potential of the technological revolution and progression we witnessing.

And as for the on going battle against fake news, an informed, knowledgeable and aware public coupled with stringent legal protection is the best weapon.

This piece was a joint effort between InPRA and GA monitoring 

Varya Srivastava

Varya Srivastava

Intern at InPRA
Varya Srivastava is presently pursing her undergraduate degree in Political Science from University of Delhi. Her work with the United Services Institute, Global Youth India and SheSays has nurtured her interest in security studies, international relations, conflict analysis and feminism. As a part of her undergraduate research she is writing on the application Democratic Peace Theory as foreign policy tool and the conception of positive peace.
Varya Srivastava