Since some months it looks like the world has been plagued with a new problem: the fake news.
Everyone is talking about the: the CEOs of Google and Facebook, President Trump and any person working in politics or IT. What’s happening? Are we really struck by a tsunami made of disinformation?
If we give a look to Google Trend we’ll see that the term “fake news” ha started gaining momentum since last October, during US presidential elections, probably thanks to Trump, who used this term a lot in his speeches. While the term is new, the concept is very old. Sites like Snopes exists since a lot of year: they just used the term “hoaxes”. The reality is that false news have always existed, even before Internet. Just think about all those low quality publications you could fine in kiosks. The difference is that now people are starting to care about that.
Why the problem is coming to public attention now? Probably because of a switch in perception. Spreading misinformations through Internet has shown us that more many people than we thought, even educated one, who can’t tell the difference between information and rumor, between opinions and sarcasm. We sarcastically smile at someone who think that earth is flat (or hollow), the fun stops when the disinformation is about more important topics like vaccines or alternative medical treatments. The results are obvious to anyone: the antivax campaigns has lead to an increase in measles cases, with all the implications. Do we have to blame fake news for this? Or we should blame ignorance?
Most people agree on the fact that something should be done against fake news, but we still need to find a way. Algorithms used by Google and Facebook are not polished enough to discriminate between sarcasm and disinformation to limit the diffusion of hoaxes. Shutting down “dangerous” sites who make money spreading fake news won’t improve the situation: the most dangerous piece of disinformation has been spread by mainstream media, not through obscure websites.
Probably the thing we can do is to learn to be skeptic and verify information, even when it come from sources we trust. Basically, we should never stop studying as we get older.